Sandro Botticelli, born Alessandro Mariano Filipepi, was the son of a tanner. He was born in Florence around 1445 and showed a talent for painting at a very early age. Botticelli was first apprenticed under a goldsmith named Sandro, from whom it is believed he derived his nickname. At the age of sixteen, he served an apprenticeship with the painter Fra Filippo Lippi (Durant, 1953). From Lippi he learned to create the effect of transparency, to draw outlines, and to give his pictures fluidity and harmony. He also worked with painter and engraver Antonio del Pollaiuolo, from whom he gained his sense of line.
By 1470, Botticelli had his own workshop and had developed a highly personal style characterized by elegant execution, a sense of melancholy, and a strong emphasis on line. Botticelli spent most of his life working for the great families of Florence, including the Medici family. Botticelli’s name appears regularly in the account books of members of the Medici family, for whom he painted banners, portraits, and altarpieces along with paintings of allegorical or mythological subject matter. Likenesses of the Medici family are found in various paintings including “Judith,” “Madonna of the Magnificat,” and “Adoration of the Magi.”
Apart from his works for members of the Medici family, Botticelli received many commissions from other prominent members of the Florentine society, including the Vespucci family. Botticelli first made a name for himself by his paintings of the Virgin and Child, and was given a public commission to paint “Fortitude” which was to be hung in the Trade law court. In about 1481, Botticelli, along with Ghirlandaio, Perugino, and Cosimo Rosselli, was called to Rome by Pope Sixtus IV to decorate the walls of the Sistine Chapel with scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Botticelli controlled the scheme and executed three of the frescoes. The large scale of these works and the attempt to include several stages of narrative in one composition were not fully mastered and remain confused and disorganized (Gowing, 1983).
In his paintings, Botticelli retained enough objects and paid enough attention to the human body to create a sense of realism, but it is evident that he was more concerned with the spiritual presence of his subjects (Magill, 1989). Because of this, his subjects were less individualized in terms of their clothing or bodily structure and the sense of a domestic scene was not emphasized. Feminine beauty was so much a part of Botticelli’s classical and religious paintings that is has been speculated that he was deeply influenced by the Neoplatonists, who equated the concept of beauty with truth (Magill, 1989).
Botticelli was influenced less by exciting scientific rules for drawing than by the thinking of humanists such as Ficino and the religious fervor that swept through Florence when the French invaded Italy. Botticelli’s brilliant drawings did not contain the grace and charm as those of Ficino, but were definite...