Alessandro Botticelli was born in Florence in 1444 or 1445, the fourth son of Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, a tanner. Alessandro's nickname was derived from the one given to his eldest brother Giovanni, who, because of his corpulence, was called "Il Botticello" (little barrel). It is believed that Botticelli was apprenticed as a goldsmith before being sent, probably in the beginning of the 1460s, to Fra Filippo Lippi in order to study painting.
From 1470, Botticelli ran his own workshop in Florence and, in 1472, he became a member of the St. Luke's Guild. His early woks were mostly small religious pieces. In 1470, he was commissioned to paint Fortitude (c.1470) for the Florentine Tribunate di Mercatanzia. In 1474, his first monumental work St. Sebastian (1474) was mounted on a pillar in the Florentine church of Santa Maria Maggiore. He painted Adoration of the Magi (c.1475), on which he depicted members of Medici clan, the ruling family of the Florence, also his Portrait of Giuliano de' Medici (c.1476-1477) was well known. He had a lasting fame as a painter of Madonnas. Among his best are Madonna and Child with Eight Angels (Tondo Raczynski) (c.1478), Madonna del Libro (c.1480), Madonna of the Magnificat (c.1480-1481), Madonna of the Pomegranate (c.1487), Madonna del Padiglione (c.1493).
In 1480, Botticelli was commissioned to paint the fresco St. Augustine (1480) for the Ognissanti church. At that period he also created another fresco, which did not survived. In 1481, Botticelli was commissioned along with Domenico Ghirlandaio, Cosimo Rosseli and Pierro Perugino by Pope Sixtus IV to decorate his cappella magna, which was later named the Sistine Chapel after him, with frescos. He created The Temptation of Christ (1481-1482), Scenes from the Life of Moses (1481-1482) and The Punishment of Korah (1481-1482).
In the next years he painted The Story of Nastagio degli Onesti (1482-1483), a series of 4 frescos based on the novella in Boccaccio's Decameron for the decoration of the Pucci villa, and his most famous mythologic works Primavera (c.1482) and The Birth of Venus (c.1485). He created several great altarpieces for Florentine churches, such as Virgin and Child Enthroned between Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist (Bardi altarpiece) (1484), Virgin and Child with Four Angels and Six Saints (San Barnabas altarpiece) (c.1487), Coronation of the Virgin with the Saints John the Evangelist, Augustine, Jerome and Eligius. (San Marco altarpiece) (c. 1490-1492).
In the 1490s, Botticelli became influenced by the Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola, in whose sermons and writings he conjured up visions of the Apocalypse at the imminent turn of the century and warned people to repent and embrace asceticism. Botticelli's style became more severe and strict. In the late 1480s, the artist made illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy. Among his last known works are Calumny of Apelles (c.1494-1495), The Story of Virginia (c.1496-1504), The Story of Lucretia (c.1496-1504), Mystic Nativity (1500) and St. Zenobiuspanels (1500-1505). The last years of Botticelli's life are unknown. He died on the 17th of May, 1510 in Florence and was buried in the Ognissanti cemetery.
Giuliano de' Medici (1453-1478), brother of Lorenzo de' Medici "The Magnificent", ruler of Florence. He was killed on 26 April 1478, while mass was being celebrated in Florence Cathedral, during an attack made by Pazzi family, who were the Medicis' rivals for power and banking business.
See: Alessandro Botticelli. Portrait of Giuliano de' Medici.
Madonna and Child with Six Saints - This type of altar painting is called Sacra Conversazione, and it shows the enthroned Madonna surrounded by saints. To the left are Mary Magdalene with the ointment jar and St. John the Baptist wearing furs, and to the right are St. Fransis of Assici in the Franciscans' habit and Catherine of Alexandria with her wheel. The two kneeling saints, Cosmas and Damian, were patron saints of medicine, doctors and pharmacists.
See: Alessandro Botticelli. Madonna and Child with Six Saints.
Madonna of the Magnificat - Baby Christ inspires Mary for writing the Magnificat, her hymn of praise to the Lord. Two of the angels are crowning her as the Queen of Heavens. The crown consists of innumerable stars; they are an illusion to the stella matutina (morning star), one of the Virgin's names in contemporary hymns devoted to Mary.
See: Alessandro Botticelli. Madonna of the Magnificat.
Scenes from the Life of Moses - are to be read from right to left: Moses, in a shining yellow garment, angrily strikes an Egyptian overseer and then flees to the Midianites. There he disperses a group of shepherds, who were preventing the daughter of Jethro from drawing water at the well. After the divine revelation in the burning bush at the top left, Moses obeys God's commandment and leads the people of Israel in a triumphal procession from slavery in Egypt. More about Moses.
See: Alessandro Botticelli. Scenes from the Life of Moses.
The Punishment of Korah - from right to left, the fresco shows 3 episodes of the revolt against Moses' and Aaron's authority. On the right Joshua is defending Moses from the rebellious people who want to stone him. In the center, the sons of Aaron and Levi are attempting to dispute Aaron's right to be a priest. On the left, the earth is opening up at Moses' command and is swallowing the rebels. Only the innocent are saved.
See: Alessandro Botticelli. The Punishment of Korah.
Primavera (Spring). Venus is standing in the center of the picture, above her Cupid is aimimg one of his arrows of love at the three dancing Graces. The Garden of the goddess of love is guarded by Mercury (he is wearing winged shoes) on the left. From the right, Zephyr, the god of the winds, is pursuing a nymph. Next to her walks Flora, the goddess of spring, who is scattering flowers.
See: Alessandro Botticelli. Primavera.
Pallas/Camilla and the Centaur. A centaur has trespassed on forbidden territory. This lusty being, half horse and half man, is being brought under control by a guard armed with a shield and halberd, and she has grabbed him by the hair. The woman-guard has been undentified both as the goddess Pallas Athena and the Amazon Camilla. The moral content of the painting is: virtue is victorious over sensuality.
See: Alessandro Botticelli. Pallas/Camilla and the Centaur.
The Story of Virginia. This is a story from Ancient Rome: the beautiful, virtuous Virginia becomes the victim of an intrigue of the decemvir Appius Claudius, and despite her innocence is to be condemned to a life of slavery. In order to avoid this disgrace, she is stabbed to death by her father. The event led to a revolt against Rome's tyrannical decemvirs. See also a painting by Filippino Lippi.
See: Alessandro Botticelli. The Story of Virginia.
Filippino Lippi. Three Scenes from the Story of Virginia: Appius Claudius Stops Virginia; The "Decemvir" Condems Virginia to Slavery; Virginia is Killed by Virginius.
Baptism of St. Zenobius and his Appointment as Bishop. Botticeli depicted the life and work of St. Zenobius (337-417), the first bishop of Florence, in 4 paintings. In the first scene, St. Zenobius is shown twice: he rejects the bride that his parents intended him to take in marriage and walks thoughtfully away (on the left). The other episodes show the baptism of the young Zenobius and his mother, and on the right his ordination as bishop.
Three Miracles of St. Zenobius. On the left St. Zenobius saves two men who are possessed by devils. After praying for them in front of the cross, he blesses them, and little devils disappear out of their mouths. In the center St. Zenobius restores to life the child of a pilgrim to Rome. On the right he heals a blind man, who is kneeling before the bishop with his little dog.
Three Miracles of St. Zenobius. In front of an astonished crowd, St. Zenobius raises a young man from the dead. He also saves a man who fell from his horse while transporting the relics of saints. The scene in the interior shows St. Zenobius healing his sick deacon. The latter gets up immediately in order to use the water St. Zenobius has blessed to bring a dead relative to life.
Last Miracle and the Death of St. Zenobius. A child is run over by a cart. His mother, a widow, brings the body to St. Zenobius, pleading to revive her son. St. Zenobius revives the child. On the the right, the dying bishop blesses those praying by his deathbed.
See: Alessandro Botticelli. Baptism of St. Zenobius and his Appointment as Bishop. Three Miracles of St. Zenobius. Three Miracles of St. Zenobius. Last Miracle and the Death of St. Zenobius.
Calumny of Apelles An innocent young man is dragged before the king's throne by the personifications of Calumny, Malice, Fraud and Envy. They are followed to one side by Remorse as an old woman, turning to face the naked Truth. Truth, like the innocent youth, is naked as she has nothing to conceal.
See: Alessandro Botticelli. Calumny of Apelles.
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