Monday, March 1, 2010

The Birth of Botticelli

Magnet # 181: Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus

Material: Metal, Paper, Mylar Shell

Purchased By: Me

The great Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli was born in Florence on this day in 1445. I have to admit, he's my favorite of all of the Renaissance artists, even moreso than more famous ones like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Maybe it's the clarity and beauty of his work, or the fact that some of his most famous works depict mythological subjects, in which I'm always interested, but there's just something about Botticelli and his stunning images.

Not a huge amount of information is known about Botticelli, but he lived in Florence all of his life. Although his father was a tanner, he didn't follow in that business and apprenticed first with his brother, a goldsmith, and by his mid-teens, he was learning painting from one of the leading artists of the day, Fra Filippo Lippi.  Before long, he was producing such impressive work that he established his own workshop and was receiving patronage from some of the most important leaders of his time, most notably the Medici family.  At that time, he was painting mostly images inspired by classical mythology, like Venus' first appearance, which is featured on this magnet.  He was most likely influenced by the trends of that time and the demands of his wealthy patrons in choosing these subject matters.  Later in life, however, Botticelli is said to have become a follower of the overly zealous Dominican priest Savonarola, and it's rumored that he may have even burned some of his own mythological paintings at the notorious "Bonfire of the Vanities," organized by the priest. But he clearly turned away from his classical works to focus solely on religious works like the Nativity and images of various saints.  He painted images in churches, even some in the Sistine Chapel, although his works there were always overshadowed by those of Michelangelo.  Although for a period of his life Botticelli enjoyed great success, by the time of his death he was poor and nearly forgotten.  He received very few commissions later in life, perhaps due to illness.  He never married, but it's believed he suffered an unrequited love for a married noblewoman that may have modeled for some of his paintings.  Per his wishes, after his death, he was buried at the feet of her grave.

Few major European artists ever had their work fall out of favor so long or so severely as that of Botticelli's.  For centuries, his work hung in churches and villas, but almost no one in the art world paid it any attention.  Slowly, however, collectors and historian began to rediscover it, placing it in exhibitions and mentioning him to their contemporaries.  By the nineteenth century, he was becoming better known and even one of the later Pre-Raphealite artists, Evelyn de Morgan, was heavily influenced by Botticelli's work.  Finally, the art world realized what an incredible artist he was and between 1900 and 1920, Botticelli was the subject of more books than any other painter.  Nowadays, pretty much everyone knows the name of this incredible artist and his The Birth of Venus is one of the most famous images in Western culture.  I'm so grateful for this renewal of interest in this talented artist, for because of it, I'm able to enjoy his gorgeous work and learn from it in my own artwork.

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