Old Masters Academy

Sandro Botticelli

Botticelli’s talent was soon recognized and by 1470 he had his own workshop. In 1472 he joined the local painters’ guild. He painted small religious works until 1474, when he received a commission to paint the monumental St. Sebastian for the church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Florence.

His work was in favor with members of the Medici clan, who were the ruling family of Florence, and in 1475 he painted the Adoration of the Magi in which he included portraits of some Medici family members. The Medicis commissioned many works from Botticelli, paying him handsomely. Sandro Botticelli was deeply influenced by the artists and intellectuals who surrounded Lorenzo di Medici and by their ideas, which aimed to bring together classical and Christian beliefs. This influence can be seen in Botticelli’s two most famous works, Primavera and Birth of Venus, both commissions for the Medici palaces.

Botticelli’s reputation as a painter was by now well established and in 1481 he was one of four Florentine artists commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV to paint a series of frescoes for the Sistine Chapel in Rome. He painted three large panels: the Youth of Moses, the Punishment of the Sons of Corah, and the Temptation of Christ. But the works were considered to be only partially successful and he returned to Florence in late 1482 where he went back to working for the Medicis until the death of Lorenzo in 1492. During this period he illustrated an edition of Dante’s Inferno and wrote a commentary for it. In 1491 Botticelli was asked to be a part of the committee that decided on the facade of the Duomo (the cathedral of Florence) and in 1504 he was on the committee that decided where Michelangelo’s David should be situated.

After the death of Lorenzo di Medici, Botticelli came under the influence of the radical Dominican monk Savonarola, who preached the Apocalypse and the virtues of abandoning worldly goods. As a result, it is rumored that Botticelli destroyed many of his own works and his style of this period shows a drastic change. He began to include heavy religious symbolism and cryptic inscriptions in Greek into his works to explain his mystic vision.

Savonarola was eventually burned at the stake in the main square of Florence, but Botticelli remained in the city and continued to work. But by 1502 he was receiving few commissions; his style was no longer in fashion and newer artists, such as Raphael, Leonardo and Michelangelo were becoming immensely popular. In addition, in the same year he was accused of sodomy. The accusation stated “Botticelli keeps a boy”, but the charges were dropped. A copy of the charge still exists in the Florentine Archives. Botticelli never married, saying the thought gave him nightmares.

Like his early life, almost nothing is known about Botticelli’s final years. He died in Florence, where he had lived all his life, at the age of 65. After his death, his work fell into oblivion for the next 400 years until he was rediscovered in the 19th century by artists of the Pre-Raphaelite movement in England.

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