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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sandro Botticelli

There would, no doubt, be very few artists today if they could paint only one area of subject matter. If the only buyers of art today were the religious clergy and the only subjects they bought were those from the Bible, the vast majority of artists would probably take up a different profession. Therefore, modern day  artists should be glad they didn't live some six hundred years ago when such circumstances were the norm. As fascinating and exciting as it might have to have rubbed shoulders with the likes of Leondardo, Ghirlandaio, and Donatello during the early Renaissanace, they might also have felt more than a little hamstrung.

However, 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. These giants of the High Renaissaance 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 colors can be found in the painting of Michelangelo and indirectly, through him, in the murals of Raphael. 
Michelangelo and 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, that art and artists flourished in Florence, none moreso than Botticelli. Building upon the work of Giotto and Masaccio, and particularly Piero della Francesca, under whom he may have studied, Botticelli is all the more remarkable in that, while borrowing their trademark chiaroscuro, his work, with its tightly drawn, yet flowing lines, otherwise looks nothing like theirs.   
La Primavera, 1485-87,
Sandro Botticelli
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. Entwinded zephyrs breathe winds causing the painting's namesake, born of the sea, to float shore, rising up in a modest pose epitomizing forever the Renaissanace 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 whom America was named.
The Birth of Venus, 1482,
Sandro Botticelli

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