Biography of Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus Painter

botticelli self-portrait detail adoration of the magi
Sandro Botticelli self-portrait detail from "Adoration of the Magi" (1475). Thekla Clark / Getty Images

Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) was an Italian Early Renaissance painter. He is best known today for his iconic painting "The Birth of Venus." He was popular enough during his lifetime that he was chosen as part of the team of artists who created the first paintings in the Sistine Chapel.

Fast Facts: Sandro Botticelli

  • Full Name: Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi
  • Occupation: Painter
  • Style: Italian Early Renaissance
  • Born: c. 1445 in Florence, Italy
  • Died: May 17, 1510, in Florence, Italy
  • Parent: Mariano di Vanni d'Amedeo Filipepi
  • Selected Works: "Adoration of the Magi" (1475), "Primavera" (1482), "The Birth of Venus" (1485)

Early Life and Training

Most of the details of Sandro Botticelli's earliest life are unknown. He is thought to have grown up in Florence, Italy in a relatively poor part of the city where he lived most of his life. Legends about the artist say that one of his four older brothers nicknamed him "Botticelli" which means "little barrel" in Italian.

Sandro Botticelli was apprenticed to artist Fra Filippo Lippi somewhere around 1460. He was considered a conservative painter but one of the most popular in Florence, and was often given commissions by the powerful Medici family. The young Botticelli received a solid education in the Florentine style of panel painting, frescoes, and drawing.

sandro botticelli adoration of the magi
"Adoration of the Magi" (1475). Thekla Clark / Getty Images

Early Florentine Career

In 1472, Botticelli joined a group of Florentine painters known as the Compagnia di San Luca. Many of his early works were church commissions. One of his first masterpieces was the 1476 "Adoration of the Magi" painted for the Santa Maria Novella. Among the portraits in the painting are members of the Medici family and the only known self-portrait of Botticelli.

sandro botticelli saint augustine in his study
"Saint Augustine in His Study" (1480). Leemage / Getty Images

The influential Vespucci family, well-known for the explorer Amerigo Vespucci, commissioned a fresco of "Saint Augustine in his Study" dating to approximately 1480. It is the earliest Botticelli fresco that still survives and is located in the church of Ognissanti in Florence.

Sistine Chapel

In 1481, due to his local popularity, Botticelli was one of the group of Florentine and Umbrian artists invited by Pope Sixtus IV to create frescoes to decorate the walls of his new Sistine Chapel in Rome. His work in the chapel pre-dates the better known Michelangelo pieces by nearly 30 years.

Sandro Botticelli contributed three scenes of the fourteen that depict events in the lives of Jesus Christ and Moses. They include "The Temptations of Christ," "Youth of Moses," and "Punishment of the Sons of Corah." He also painted several of the portraits of popes above the larger scenes.

sandro botticelli temptation of christ
"Temptation of Christ" (1482). Heritage Images / Getty Images

While Botticelli designed the Sistine Chapel paintings himself, he brought a team of assistants with him to complete the work. This was due to the ample space covered by the frescoes and the requirement to complete the job in only a few months.

Birth of Venus

After the completion of the Sistine Chapel pieces in 1482, Botticelli returned to Florence and remained there for the rest of his life. During the next period of his career, he created his two most famous paintings, 1482's "Primavera" and 1485's "The Birth of Venus." Both are in the Uffizi Gallery museum in Florence.

Both "Primavera" and "The Birth of Venus" are notable for depictions of scenes from classical mythology on a massive scale usually reserved for religious subject matter. Some historians see "Primavera" as one of the earliest works designed to make looking at art an act of pleasure.

sandro botticelli birth of venus
"Birth of Venus" (1485). Heritage Images / Getty Images

While Botticelli fell out of favor after his death, a revival of interest in "The Birth of Venus" in the 19th century positioned the piece as one of the most revered works of art of all time. The scene depicts Venus, the Goddess of Love, sailing to shore on a giant seashell. Zephyr, the god of the west wind, blows her ashore while an attendant waits to wrap a cloak around her.

One unique element of "The Birth of Venus" was the presentation of a nearly life-size female nude. For many casual observers, the painting is their idea of Italian Renaissance art. However, it stands apart from most of the critical elements of the main threads of art from the period.

Botticelli painted a few other mythological subjects, and they also stand out among his most famous works. The smaller panel painting "Mars and Venus" is in the National Gallery in London, England. The larger piece "Pallas and the Centaur" hangs in the Uffizzi in Florence.

Secular Work

Botticelli focused most of his career on religious and mythologic content, but he also produced many portraits. Most of them are various members of the Medici family. Since the commissions often went to Botticelli's workshop, it is impossible to know for sure which artists worked on which portrait. However, the identification of similar elements is used to try and identify authentic Botticelli work.

sandro botticelli giuliano de medici
"Portrait of Giuliano de Medici" (1478). Francis G. Mayer / Getty Images

Later Years

Sometime during the 1490s, Botticelli rented a small house with a farm in the country just outside of Florence. He lived on the property with his brother Simone. Little is known about Botticelli's personal life, and he never married. The Florentine Archives include an accusation from 1502 that Botticelli "kept a boy" and might have been gay or bisexual, but historians do not agree on this point. Similar allegations were common slander during the era.

sandro botticelli castello annunciation
"Castello Annunciation" (1490). Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Late in the 1490s, the Medici family lost much of their power in Florence. Religious fervor took over in their place, and it reached a climax with The Bonfire of the Vanities in 1497. Many historians believe that many Botticelli paintings could have been lost.

Botticelli's work after 1500 is more somber in tone and specifically religious in content. Paintings like his 1501 "Mystic Crucifixion" are emotionally intense. No one knows for sure what happened in the last years of Botticelli's life, but he died a poor man in 1510. He is buried in the chapel of the Vespucci family in the church of Ognissanti in Florence.

Legacy

Botticelli's reputation suffered for centuries following his death as Western art critics revered the later artists, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. In the late 1800s, Botticelli surged in popularity. In the first two decades of the 1900s, more books were published about Botticelli than any other artist. He is now considered one of the artists who best represent the linear elegance of Early Renaissance painting.

Source

  • Zollner, Frank. Botticelli. Prestel, 2015.