Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, or as we know him today, Sandro Botticelli, was born in 1445 and died in 1510.
He was an Italian Renaissance painter and was a member of the art movement that was present at the Florentine School. This was where he studied under the watchful eye and guidance of Lorenzo de' Medici.
Botticelli's most famous works include those of Primavera and The Birth of Venus. At his most productive and successful, Botticelli was one of the most well known artists within all of Italy.
In particular, Madonna and Child was one of his most gracious paintings, that was popular with the individuals of his day.
Botticelli's humble beginnings
Botticelli was born and raised in Via Nuova, Florence. His first job was that of working as a goldsmith, as he was trained by Antonio, his elder brother. This was a job that he worked at for many years, of which he was incredibly successful.
There is very little documented information about Botticelli's upbringing, abd his early years, so not much is known about his life as a young boy living in Venice.
But, what we do know is that at the age of fourteen, he became a young artistic Renaissance apprentice, studying under the guidance of Fra Filippo Lippi, meaning that he undergone a full and varied artistic education. This was most unusual and scarce practice at the time.
Botticelli's father was a working class farmer, and Botticelli was given his father's name of di Mariano Filipepi although he was known to his family and friends by the affectionate nickname of Botticelli that was derived from the phrase meaning small wine cask. He was an exceptionally clever and articulate child at school, and this thirst for knowledge and wanting to learn new skills, propelled him to become an apprentice and the great artist that the world knows today.
The early career of Botticelli - 1462
Under the guidance of Fra Filippo Lippi, from 1462, Botticelli created many great artistic works that are all credited to his great master and friend. It is widely accepted that Botticelli learned his artistic finery and skill from Lippi, and it is also believed that he travelled to Esztergom, in Hungary, in order to create a fresco with his master. It is thought that the work was commissioned by the then Archbishop, János Vitéz. During these early years, Botticelli was greatly influenced by Gothicrealism and with all things that were antique. What Botticelli managed to achieve, even with his very early works, was that of ambiguity and a sense of mystery, that has managed to surrounded his paintings ever since. Even today, scholars and art critics alike have varied discussions about the meanings of his work. His linear style of painting is both formal and incredibly striking, while the entire image is somehow softened with the use of intricate pastel shades. What we also know is that he drew inspiration from various poems and prose of the time, helping him to add to the sense of mystery that surrounds each of his paintings.
Botticelli in the 1470s
During 1472, Botticelli became a member of the Compagnia di San Luca, where he painted alongside other famous Florentine painters. He also took on the services and skills of Filippino Lippi who was the son of his deceased master and friend. Lippi became Botticelli's apprentice, completing the life cycle. It was during this time, that Botticelli completely broke with convention and finished the painting that the great Filippino had begun, that of The Adoration of the Kings. This was practically unheard of at the time, as it was not normal practice.
Due to the apprenticeship with Filippo, Botticelli was also granted excellent contacts within polite and cultural society, and mingled in great artistic company. He was able to meet, and work with, some of the bust influential and wealthy families within Venice. This included such families as the Medici, for which he painted the famous Primavera. The Adoration of the Magi for Santa Maria Novella was painted between 1475 and 76, and is at present on show within the Uffizi. What this collection showcased were the many portraits of Cosimo de Medici, alongside his two sons Giovanni and Piero, together with his two grandchildren, Giuliano and Lorenzo.
Botticelli in the 1480s
It was during the 1480s that Botticelli created the fresco cycle for Lorenzo the Magnificen together with Filippino Lippi, Perugino and Domenico Ghirlandaio. The success of this work led onto Botticelli working on the impressive facade for Florence Cathedral in 1491. During 1481, the Pope at the time, Sixtus IV requested the services of Botticelli and his fellow esteemed artists, in order to fresco the interior walls within the Sistine Chapel.
It was during this era that Botticelli's career really took off. During his time painting in the Sistine Chapel, he chose biblically related frescoes that depicted the scenes of Moses and those from the Temptations of Christ. He was also commissioned to paint several papal portraits during this time. He was very well known indeed and highly acknowledged within Florence and the wider area. He was well liked and held in the highest esteem.
The Madonna of the Book was painted during the years 1480 to 1483
Primavera in 1482 and in 1485 he painted The Birth of Venus. The latter two works of art where displayed at the villa Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici at Castello. For many years, art historians believed that the works had been specifically commissioned for the villa. During recent years, it is now widely believed that in fact Primavera was created specifically for a townhouse in Florence, that belonged to Lorenzo. It is also believed that The Birth of Venus was in fact commissioned by a person unknown for a completely different building. It was in 1499 that the two paintings were placed within the Castello.
Botticelli in the 1490s
The 1490s was when Botticelli fused the two world of politics and religion on canvas. This was to be the last fifteen years of Botticelli's short life. This decade was marked with great turbulence and saw the expulsion of the Medici family from Florence life. The entire region was hit by plague and foreign invasions. It was for these reasons, those of the harsh and stark cruelties of life, that Botticelli dismissed the ornamental and intrinsic paintings of his past, instead opting for harsh lines and simplify in his art. It is the paintings that he created towards the end of his career that reflected deep religious themes, that helped him to become elevated, and to be compared to, the great works of Raphael and Michelangelo. This was also reflected in him following closely the life and works of Friar Savonarola, and his great fascination with him.
Botticelli in the 1500s
From 1500 onwards, Botticelli was hugely influenced by the Friar Girolamo Savonarola, who it is widely acknowledged influenced the painting, The Mystical Nativity. During the late 1490s Savonarola preached widely in the Florence region, until he was executed in 1498. Although the extent of his influence upon Botticelli's work is not well documented, it is strongly believed that he played a pivotal role in shaping the inspiration behind his paintings. This is shown in the changing imagery and style of painting, as Botticelli moved from decorative and almost whimsical paintings to those that seemed to be incredibly devout in nature. This incredible transformation in both tone and style, is epitomised in The Mystical Nativity.
It was during the year of 1504 that Botticelli became a prestigious committee member who was responsible for approving the placement of Michelangelo's now famous David. From this point onwards, Botticelli's work took on a completely different look, as he began to paint figures that were remarkably distorted, while experimenting with unusual colouring. His work at this time, very much resembled that of Fra Angelico nearly, who painted an entire century before Botticelli. What is most surprising, is that after Botticelli's death, all of his great works remained where they had intended to be, so in the various villas and churches of Italy. His work in the Sistine Chapel was also left undisturbed, alongside that of Michelangelo. The one piece of art that was moved from its original setting, was that of The Mystical Nativity, which was transferred to London by William Young Ottley, an art collector who has purchased the painting while visiting Italy. This was done so in 1799.
The private life of Botticelli
What art historians do know is that Botticelli never married. It is also acknowledged that he had no desire to marry, as he disliked the entire marriage concept. It has been documented that the idea of marriage caused him to have nightmares. However, this does not mean that he did not love or want to be loved. It is thought that he loved Simonetta Vespucci, who was a married woman of noble birth. It is her face and body that became the muse for The Birth of Venus as well as many of his other paintings, but this has never been proven. Sadly, she had died before he painted her in his creations. His love and devotion for Vespucci was further established when he requested that at his death, he wished to be buried alongside her feet. This was in Florence, at the Church of Ognissantiin. Botticelli did indeed get his wish. The fact that he was never married, has caused much speculation and discussion with regards to his sexuality. There were reports at the time of Botticelli living with a boy, but these claims were later dropped. To this day, Botticelli's sexuality remains a secret.
Tom Gurney in an art history expert. He received a BSc (Hons) degree from Salford University, UK, and has also studied famous artists and art movements for over 20 years. Tom has also published a number of books related to art history and continues to contribute to a number of different art websites. You can read more on Tom Gurney here.