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Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, known as Sandro Botticelli (Italian: [ˈsandro bottiˈtʃɛlli]; c. 1445 – May 17, 1510), was an Italian painter of the Early Renaissance. He belonged to the Florentine School under the patronage of Lorenzo de' Medici, a movement that Giorgio Vasari would characterize less than a hundred years later as a "golden age", a thought, suitably enough, he expressed at the head of his Vita of Botticelli. Botticelli's posthumous reputation suffered until the late 19th century; since then his work has been seen to represent the linear grace of Early Renaissance painting. Among his best known works are The Birth of Venus and Primavera.
He was born in the city of Florence in a house in the Via Nuova, Borg'Ognissanti to Mariano di Vanni d'Amedeo Filipepi. Vasari reported that he was initially trained as a goldsmith by his brother Antonio. There are very few details of Botticelli's life, but it is known that he became an apprentice when he was about fourteen years old, which would indicate that he received a fuller education than other Renaissance artists. Probably by 1462 he was apprenticed to Fra Filippo Lippi; many of his early works have been attributed to the elder master, and attributions continue to be uncertain. Influenced also by the monumentality of Masaccio's painting, it was from Lippi that Botticelli learned a more intimate and detailed manner. As recently discovered, during this time, Botticelli could have traveled to Hungary, participating in the creation of a fresco in Esztergom, ordered in the workshop of Filippo Lippi by János Vitéz, then archbishop of Hungary.
By 1470, Botticelli had his own workshop. Even at this early date, his work was characterized by a conception of the figure as if seen in low relief, drawn with clear contours, and minimizing strong contrasts of light and shadow which would indicate fully modeled forms.
The Adoration of the Magi for Santa Maria Novella (c. 1475–1476, now at the Uffizi), contains the portraits of Cosimo de Medici, his sons Piero and Giovanni, and his grandsons Lorenzo and Giuliano. The quality of the scene was hailed by Vasari as one of Botticelli's pinnacles. In 1481, Pope Sixtus IV summoned Botticelli and other prominent Florentine and Umbrian artists to fresco the walls of the Sistine Chapel. The iconological program was the supremacy of the Papacy. Sandro's contribution included the Temptations of Christ, the Punishment of the Rebels and Trial of Moses. He returned to Florence, and "being of a sophistical turn of mind, he there wrote a commentary on a portion of Dante and illustrated the Inferno which he printed, spending much time over it, and this abstention from work led to serious disorders in his living." Thus Vasari characterized the first printed Dante (1481) with Botticelli's decorations; he could not imagine that the new art of printing might occupy an artist.
The masterpieces Primavera (c. 1482) and The Birth of Venus (c. 1485) were both seen by Vasari at the villa of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici at Castello in the mid-16th century, and until recently, it was assumed that both works were painted specifically for the villa. Recent scholarship suggests otherwise: the Primavera was painted for Lorenzo's townhouse in Florence, and The Birth of Venus was commissioned by someone else for a different site. By 1499, both had been installed at Castello.
In these works, the influence of Gothic realism is tempered by Botticelli's study of the antique. But if the painterly means may be understood, the subjects themselves remain fascinating for their ambiguity. The complex meanings of these paintings continue to receive widespread scholarly attention, mainly focusing on the poetry and philosophy of humanists who were the artist's contemporaries. The works do not illustrate particular texts; rather, each relies upon several texts for its significance. Of their beauty, characterized by Vasari as exemplifying "grace" and by John Ruskin as possessing linear rhythm, there can be no doubt. The pictures features Botticelli's linear style emphasized by the soft continual contours and pastel colors.
In the mid-1480s, Botticelli worked on a major fresco cycle with Perugino, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Filippino Lippi, for Lorenzo the Magnificent's villa near Volterra; in addition he painted many frescoes in Florentine churches. In 1491 he served on a committee to decide upon a façade for the Cathedral of Florence.
Botticelli never wed, and expressed a strong disliking to the idea of marriage, a prospect he claimed gave him nightmares.
The popular view is that he suffered from an unrequited love for Simonetta Vespucci, a married noblewoman. According to popular belief, she had served as the model for The Birth of Venus and recurs throughout his paintings, despite the fact that she had died years earlier, in 1476.
Some modern historians have also examined other aspects of his sexuality. In 1938, Jacques Mesnil discovered a summary of a charge in the Florentine Archives for November 16, 1502, which read simply "Botticelli keeps a boy", under an accusation of sodomy. The painter would then have been fifty-eight; the charges were eventually dropped. Mesnil dismissed it as a customary slander by which partisans and adversaries of Savonarola abused each other. Opinion remains divided on whether this is evidence of homosexuality. Many have firmly backed Mesnil, but others have cautioned against hasty dismissal of the charge. Yet while speculating on the subject of his paintings, Mesnil nevertheless concluded "woman was not the only object of his love".
Botticelli asked that when he died, he be buried at her feet in the Church of Ognissanti in Florence. His wish was carried out when he died some 34 years later, in 1510.