The Early Renaissance




Renaissance Art Map
Candro Botticelly  "Visual Poetry"
    Early life and career    
    Devotional paintings     
    Secular patronage and works    
    Mythological paintings    
    How the Nymph became a Goddess    
    Botticelli: lyrical precision    
    Late works    
    Illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy and Dravings    
    APPENDIX: Venus - The Evening Star


Sandro Botticelli




Portrait of a Man with a Medal of Cosimo the Elder

c. 1474
Tempera on panel, 57,5 x 44 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence



Devotional paintings  ("Adoration of the Magi")

Botticelli worked in all the current genres of Florentine art. He painted altarpieces in fresco and on panel, tondi (circular paintings), small panel pictures, and small devotional triptychs. His altarpieces include narrow vertical panels such as the
"St. Sebastian" (1474; Berlin); small oblong panels such as the famous "Adoration of the Magi" (c. 1476; Uffizi) from the Church of Santa Maria Novella; medium-sized altarpieces, of which the finest is the beautiful Bardi altarpiece (1484-85; Berlin); and large-scale works such as the St. Barnabas altarpiece (c. 1488; Uffizi) and the "Coronation of the Virgin" (c. 1490; Uffizi). His early mastery of fresco is clearly visible in his "St. Augustine" (1480) in the Church of Ognissanti, in which the saint's cogent energy and vigour express both intellectual power and spiritual devotion. Three of Botticelli's finest religious frescos (completed 1482) were part of the decorations of the Sistine Chapel undertaken by a team of Florentine and Umbrian artists who had been summoned to Rome in July 1481. The theological themes of the frescos were chosen to illustrate papal supremacy over the church; Botticelli's are remarkable for their brilliant fusion of sequences of symbolic episodes into unitary compositions.

Florentine tondi were often large, richly framed paintings, and Botticelli produced major works in this format, beginning with the "Adoration of the Magi" (c. 1473; National Gallery, London) that he painted for Antonio Pucci. Prior to Botticelli, tondi had been conceived essentially as oblong scenes, but Botticelli suppressed all superfluity of detail in them and became adept at harmonizing his figures with the circular form. His complete mastery of the tondo format is evident in two of his most beautiful paintings, "The Madonna of the Magnificat" (c. 1485; Uffizi) and "The Madonna of the Pomegranate" (c. 1487; Uffizi). Botticelli also painted a few small oblong Madonnas, notably the "Madonna of the Book" (c. 1480; Poldi-Pezzoli Museum, Milan), but he mostly left the painting of Madonnas and other devotional subjects to his workshop, which produced them in great numbers. In his art the Virgin Mary is always a tall, queenly figure wearing the conventional red robe and blue cloak, but enriched in his autograph works by sensitively rendered accessories. She often has an inner pensiveness of expression, the same inwardness of mood that is communicated by Botticelli's saints.



St Sebastian (detail)
Tempera on panel, 195 x 75 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin

St Sebastian

Tempera on panel, 195 x 75 cm
Staatliche Museen, Berlin




The Gospels speak of
wise men from the east
coming to Bethlehem,
led by a star, when
Christ was born. In the
2nd century these wise
men (Latin: magi)
became the subject of
popular legends. They
were thought to be
kings, names were
invented for them, and
they were depicted as
representing the three
ages of man (youth,
maturity, and old age).
One was usually black,
personifying Africa. By
the 16th century, the
Magi had acquired
royal retinues, often
including the family of
the painter's patron.


... Botticelli accepted that paganism, too, was a religion and could bear profoundly philosophical significance. His religious paintings manifest this belief by converging all truths into one.
He seems to have had a personal devotion to the biblical account of The Adoration of The Magi , setting it in a ruined classical world. This was not an uncommon Renaissance device, suggesting that the birth of Christ brought fulfillment to the hopes of everyone, completing the achievements of the past.
But no painter felt this with the intensity of Botticelli. We feel that he desperately needed this psychic reassurance, and that the wild graphic power of his Adoration's great circles of activity, coming to rest on the still center of the Virgin and her Child, made visible his own interior circlings. Even the far green hills sway in sympathy with the clustered humans as if by magnetic attraction around the incarnate Lord.
Botticelli was not the only Florentine to be blessed or afflicted by an intensely anxious temperament. In the 1490s, the city of Florence was overtaken by a political crisis. The Medici government fell, and there followed a four-year period of extremist religious rule under the zealot Savonarola . Either in response to this, or possibly out of some desire of his own for stylistic experimentation, Botticelli produced a series of rather clumsy-looking religious works - the San Bernabo Altarpiece is an example.




Adoration of the Magi

Tempera on panel, 50 x 136 cm
National Gallery, London




Adoration of the Magi
Tempera on panel
National Gallery, London



Adoration of the Magi

Tempera on panel, diameter 131,5 cm
National Gallery, London





Adoration of the Magi

c. 1475
Tempera on panel, 111 x 134 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence





The Adoration of the Magi
c. 1475
Tempera on panel
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence


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