Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi (Botticelli)
At a time when all the important painting being done was overwhelmingly of a religious nature, one Renaissance artist stands out for the fact that his work was entirely mythological. That artist is Sandro Botticelli. Born around 1444, he was a formative influence in the Early Renaissance and something of a grandfatherly icon by the time of Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael, who undoubtedly knew his work and were tremendously influenced by it. Traces of his love of lines can be seen in Leonardo's painting while his voluptuous colours can be found in the painting of Michelangelo and more indirectly through him, in the work murals of Raphael.
With Michelangelo, Botticelli shared a mentor. The Florentine prince, Lorenzo de Medici, known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, surrounded himself with Neoplatonists, or those who followed the Greek philosophy of Plato. It was little wonder, in this womb-like atmosphere the arts in Florence flourished, and none more so than Botticelli was. Building upon the work of Giotto and Masaccio, and particularly Piero della Francesca, whom he may have studied under, he is all the more remarkable in that his work with its tightly drawn, yet flowing lines, while borrowing their trademark chiaroscuro, otherwise looks nothing like theirs.
Two of Botticelli's works have been lifted as standards by art historians, his La Primavera, a lyrical, dancing composition of flowing lines celebrating the rites of spring, and perhaps more importantly The Birth of Venus, painted about 1482. Dubbed by wags as Venus on the Half-Shell, there is a breezy, airy, weightless quality to the nude and semi-nude figures this painting as entwined zephyrs breathe winds causing the painting's namesake, born of the sea, to float to shore, rising up in a modest pose epitomising forever the Renaissance ideal of feminine beauty. Oh yes, the model was somewhat famous as well, or rather one of her relatives earned a perhaps undeservedly high place in history. She was Simonetta Vespucci, cousin to the Italian navigator and explorer for which America was named.
contributed by Lane, Jim
23 February 1998