- Charles Dempsey
Updated in this version
updated bibliography, 26 May 2010; updated and revised, 31 March 2000
Italian painter and draughtsman. In his lifetime he was one of the most esteemed painters in Italy, enjoying the patronage of the leading families of Florence, in particular the Medici and their banking clients. He was summoned to take part in the decoration of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, was highly commended by diplomatic agents to Ludovico Sforza in Milan and Isabella d’Este in Mantua and also received enthusiastic praise from the famous mathematician Luca Pacioli and the humanist poet Ugolino Verino. By the time of his death, however, Botticelli’s reputation was already waning. He was overshadowed first by the advent of what Vasari called the maniera devota, a new style by Perugino, Francesco Francia and the young Raphael, whose new and humanly affective sentiment, infused atmospheric effects and sweet colourism took Italy by storm; he was then eclipsed with the establishment immediately afterwards of the High Renaissance style, which Vasari called the ‘modern manner’, in the paintings of Michelangelo and the mature works of Raphael in the Vatican. From that time his name virtually disappeared until the reassessment of his reputation that gathered momentum in the 1890s (see §I, 2 below).
I. Life and work.
1. Training and early career, to c. 1478.
Botticelli (It.: ‘a small wine cask’), a nickname taken from that of his elder brother, was the son of a tanner. He may briefly have trained as a goldsmith, but soon entered the studio in Florence of Fra Filippo Lippi, who taught him painting. He is mentioned as an independent master in 1470 (though he doubtless arrived at this status earlier). The same year he executed his first securely dated painting, the justly famous Fortitude (Florence, Uffizi), completing the series of Seven Virtues commissioned from Piero Pollaiuolo for the Hall of the Mercanzia (the magistracy governing the Florentine guilds) in the Palazzo della Signoria, Florence. In his earliest works he was distinctly affected by Lippi’s homespun view of visible creation, but already this was transformed into a more refined and abstracted vision of the world.
In 1472 Botticelli joined the Compagnia di S Luca, the confraternity of Florentine painters, in the records of which Filippino Lippi, his late teacher’s son, is named as his apprentice. On the feast of St Sebastian (20 January) in 1474 Botticelli’s St Sebastian (1473–4; Berlin, Gemäldegal.) was installed on a nave pillar in S Maria Maggiore, Florence. He was summoned to Pisa the same year to paint frescoes for the Camposanto, but instead worked for a time in the cathedral on a fresco of the Assumption of the Virgin, which he left incomplete. This no longer exists (destr. 1583), nor do the decorations that he made for the famous joust of Giuliano de’ Medici (1453–78) in January 1475, including Giuliano’s banner painted with an allegorical image of Minerva. Also lost is a fresco of the Adoration of the Magi painted in 1475 near the Porta della Catena of the Palazzo della Signoria, which was probably destroyed at the time of Vasari’s 16th-century refurbishment. Three years later Botticelli painted over the Porta della Dogana a fresco of the Pazzi conspirators, who were hanged for the murder of Giuliano de’ Medici, but this work was destroyed in 1494 when the Medici were expelled from Florence. Botticelli’s portrait of Giuliano de’ Medici (Washington, DC, N.G.A.) was apparently painted some time after the subject’s murder.
2. Years of maturity, c. 1478–90.
More paintings are securely datable from the 1480s than from any other decade in Botticelli’s career. In 1480 he painted a fresco of St Augustine’s Vision of the Death of St Jerome for the church of the Ognissanti, Florence, as a pendant to Ghirlandaio’s fresco of St Jerome of the same year (both in situ). The following year he painted a fresco of the Annunciation (Florence, Uffizi) for the Ospedale di S Martino alla Scala, Florence, and later in 1481 he was summoned to Rome by Pope Sixtus IV, together with Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli, to join Perugino in decorating the walls of the recently completed Sistine Chapel. Botticelli painted the Temptations of Christ on the right wall, devoted to scenes from the Life of Christ, and on the opposite wall, showing the Life of Moses, he painted Moses and the Daughters of Jethro and the Punishment of Korah; in addition he was responsible for a number of papal portraits in the register above.
By the autumn of 1482 Botticelli was back in Florence: in October, with Perugino, Ghirlandaio and Pollaiuolo, he was commissioned to decorate a portion of the Sala dei Gigli in the Palazzo della Signoria, but only Ghirlandaio’s St Zenobius was executed (in situ). In 1483 Botticelli and his studio painted four spalliera panels, depicting the Story of Nastagio degli Onesti (Madrid, Prado; London, Watney priv. col., see Lightbown, 1989, pl. 52) from Boccaccio’s Decameron (v.8), commissioned on the occasion of the marriage that year of Giannozzo Pucci (1460–97) and Lucrezia di Piero Bini. The following year he painted frescoes in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s villa at Spedaletto, near Volterra, and in August 1485 he was paid for the altarpiece of the Virgin with SS John the Baptist and John the Evangelist (Berlin, Gemäldegal.) for the Bardi Chapel in Santo Spirito, Florence. In 1489 he was commissioned to paint an Annunciation (Florence, Uffizi) for the Guardi Chapel in the church of Cestello (later S Maria Maddalena dei Pazzi) in Florence, and between 1488 and 1490 he painted the Coronation of the Virgin for the goldsmiths’ chapel, dedicated to St Eligius, in S Marco, Florence.
From about 1478 to 1490, the period of Botticelli’s greatest activity and the time he painted his famous mythologies, his art increasingly combined the characteristic features of a courtly style (with antecedents ultimately deriving from Angevin Late Gothic art of the previous century) with qualities learnt from the study and analysis of Classical prototypes. The effect of this assimilation—a style simultaneously nuovo and antico—is first apparent in the Primavera (c. 1478; Florence, Uffizi) and reached a highpoint in the Birth of Venus (c. 1484; Florence, Uffizi). It is also evident in such religious works as the Bardi Altarpiece, the Lamentation (Munich, Alte Pin.) and the great tondi (both Florence, Uffizi), known as the Madonna of the Magnificat (Virgin and Child with Five Angels) and the Madonna of the Pomegranate (Virgin and Child with Six Angels). It appears in Botticelli’s supple contours and the contrapposto poses, graceful proportions and balanced, natural movements of his figures, which respond to an invisible yet palpable rule of harmonic number. These figures are also very much of the Florentine present, for example the characters in the Primavera and Pallas and the Centaur (Florence, Uffizi), as well as those in the earlier Adoration of the Magi (1475–6; Florence, Uffizi) painted for the Lama Chapel in S Maria Novella, Florence, all appearing in the elaborate contemporary courtly and festival costumes worn in the religious and civic celebrations attending the feasts of St John the Baptist (one of the patron saints of Florence) and the Epiphany, or the jousts and tournaments ordained to celebrate the signing of peace treaties. Botticelli’s paintings of the Virgin similarly approximate to a quasi-courtly ideal of antique grace clothed in the garments of the Florentine present.
3. Late years, after 1490.
The frescoes from the Villa Lemmi, near Florence, showing a Youth Presented to the Liberal Arts and a Young Lady with Venus and the Graces (both Paris, Louvre), were almost certainly done in 1491, the date of the second marriage of Lorenzo Tornabuoni, who owned the villa. Otherwise, the only securely dated picture from the last two decades of Botticelli’s life is the Mystic Nativity (London, N.G.), which the artist signed ‘at the end of the year 1500’, that is, according to the Gregorian calendar, early in 1501. Botticelli’s production doubtless declined markedly in the last 15 years of his life, perhaps partly owing (as Vasari suggested) to his undertaking the immensely ambitious project of illustrating Dante’s Divine Comedy in a luxurious illuminated manuscript for Lorenzo the Magnificent’s cousin and former ward, Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, which was never completed.
However, there is a deeper crisis of style and expression discernible in Botticelli’s later works, beginning with the Calumny of Apelles (1490s; Florence, Uffizi) and reaching a peak in such paintings as the Mystic Nativity, the Mystic Crucifixion (Cambridge, MA, Fogg), the spalliera panels with the Story of Virginia (Bergamo, Gal. Accad. Carrara) and the Story of Lucretia (Boston, MA, Isabella Stewart Gardner Mus.) and the four panels of the Life and Miracles of St Zenobius (London, N.G.; New York, Met., see fig.; and Dresden, Gemäldegal. Alte Meister). In such works Botticelli increasingly rejected the courtly, ornamented style of his early maturity in favour of a retrospective appeal to the simplicity and affective directness of an earlier generation of painters, who had been masters of an apparently unforced moral and religious sentiment. (From the time of the Counter-Reformation to the 19th century this maniera devota was nostalgically understood as a characteristic of the ‘Primitives’, that is the painters working before Raphael who were untouched by the sophistication and aesthetic selfconsciousness that first arose with the dawn of the High Renaissance.) Botticelli’s extraordinary mastery of drawing and elastic contour became progressively simplified and economized, occasionally producing even a crudeness of effect; his colours, notably his greens, yellows and reds, became brighter and purer in hue; and the action of his profoundly felt dramas was staged in an abstract and otherworldly environment that is the imaginative counterpart to the simple backdrops designed for a mystery play. There is no artistic ornament conceived for its own sake, and all is calculated to enhance a single narrative and emotional effect.
In the light of the rapid development that occurred in Florentine painting during the last two decades of Botticelli’s life, the retrospection of his late works is the more astounding and poignant, especially given the critical role played by his own earlier work in helping to form the new style then reaching its first perfection in the art of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. Both knew the older master, and Michelangelo’s methods and techniques of painting as exemplified in the Doni Tondo (Holy Family, c. 1503; Florence, Uffizi) are indeed unthinkable without the direct precedent of works such as Botticelli’s Coronation of the Virgin for S Marco. Botticelli lived to see the achievement of Leonardo’s unfinished Adoration of the Magi (1481; Florence, Uffizi) and Michelangelo’s David (1504; Florence, Accad.), as well as the titanic competition of 1504 between the two in their battle-pieces for the Sala dei Cinquecento in the Palazzo della Signoria. By then his own art, by an effort of will, had abandoned a present he had helped to shape for the nostalgic values of an increasingly remote past—especially telling in this respect is the contrast of Leonardo’s Adoration of the Magi with Botticelli’s equally ambitious response in the preparation of a panel of the same subject (Florence, Uffizi), initiated some time after 1500 and also never completed. As Vasari said, Botticelli must have seemed a disappointed and sad relic of a bygone age.
II. Iconographical interpretation.
1. Mythological and allegorical works.
In many respects Botticelli’s art represents the maturation of the humanist conception of painting set forth in Alberti’s De pictura (1436). (Alberti played a formative role in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s thinking about the arts, and his De re aedificatoria was first published, posthumously, in 1485 under Lorenzo’s patronage, with a dedication by the humanist and poet Angelo Poliziano.) Botticelli, in such works as the Primavera and Birth of Venus, brought together the expressive content and forms of painting with those of the humanist poetic culture sponsored by Lorenzo, himself one of the most important vernacular poets of the century. Lorenzo’s cultural programme was based on an attempt to raise contemporary forms of expression to the level of the legacy of the ancients, through both critical and historical study and the artistic emulation of ancient and Tuscan models; he also intended the arts to be seen and heard to speak a perfect Latin in the vernacular tongue, a perfect Tuscan in the Latin. Botticelli’s paintings of ancient myth, called poetic fable in the Renaissance, were unprecedented in conception and hence, like Poliziano’s Stanze…per la giostra di Giuliano de’ Medici (begun 1476, uncompleted) and Lorenzo’s Comento to his own sonnets, to which they have often been compared, are of prime importance in understanding Renaissance culture at one of its most fertile turning-points. They directly exemplify Alberti’s concept of poetic inventio in painting, an activity of the painter Alberti defined as not analogous to but identical with poetic thinking. As examples of inventio, Alberti cited Lucian of Samosata’s description of the Calumny of Apelles and Seneca’s description of the Three Graces, the first of which was adapted by Botticelli for his own painting of the Calumny of Apelles and the second of which helped motivate the figures of the Graces in the Primavera (see also Ekphrasis).
(i) The ‘Primavera’.
The Primavera is the most important of all Botticelli’s poetic inventions, not only as a supreme work of art and the earliest and most ambitious of them, but also for historiographic reasons. The quality of writing devoted to it since Warburg’s initial study (1893) has ensured it a fundamental role in developing conceptions of the Renaissance. Warburg understood it in the context of the humanist revival and imitation of ancient poetry and also drew attention to parallels in sensibility and detail between Botticelli’s imagery and contemporary vernacular poetry of love, especially Poliziano’s Stanze. Since this poem mythologizes a contemporary event, the joust won by Lorenzo’s brother Giuliano in 1475, the painting has also been considered a manifestation of the quasi-chivalric civic rituals celebrated in such tournaments, which were held to celebrate the conclusion of peace treaties. With the revival of interest in the social context of Renaissance art, it has been suggested that the Primavera was painted at the time of a Medici wedding to decorate the house of the couple, a hypothesis conceived in reaction to the dominant interpretation of the previous scholarly generation, which held that Botticelli’s imagery expresses the Neo-Platonic philosophy of love as expounded by Marsilio Ficino. Though different interpretations vary in detail and emphasis, they nevertheless have a great deal in common: that the theme of the painting is by definition Love, denoted by Venus; and that the Primavera is a prime manifestation of the culture sponsored by Lorenzo de’ Medici, the patron of both Poliziano and Ficino. The primary dispute has been whether the Primavera expresses the values of high culture, Latinate and remote, or whether it responds to those of a more popular culture as expressed in the decoration of private houses, in the celebration of marriages and in civic festivals and tournaments.
On the one hand, there is no question of the unprecedented philological skill that contributed to Botticelli’s invention for the Primavera, which does not illustrate an episode from ancient myth or story but in true Albertian style expresses a new poetic idea based on material gathered from several ancient witnesses, including Lucretius, Ovid, Horace, Seneca and Columella. Botticelli’s genre is thus established as a form of carmen rusticum or farmer’s song. His invention is of the unfolding of the first spring of the world, the archetype for all new springs to follow, beginning with the rough blowing of the West Wind over the bare earth, depicted as Zephyr’s rape of the nymph Chloris, causing the earth to sprout forth, shown as the goddess Flora scattering the ground with flowers. The full ripeness of the season’s regenerative fertility appears in Venus, the goddess of April, who stands in the centre attended by Cupid firing his flaming arrow, and spring draws to a close with the dance of the Three Graces and Mercury, the god of May, dispersing the last clouds in the sky with his caduceus. Mercury’s identification with May is unique to the rustic calendar, organized according to the changing seasons of the farmer’s year and followed before Julius Caesar’s reform of the calendar based on calculation of the sun’s movement. Mercury’s appearance with the clothed and dancing Graces is also specifically archaic, as is the appearance of Venus, who is not nude and who assumes her primitive role as the dea hortorum (goddess of gardens). The invention is informed by genuine philological knowledge as well as a fine poetic instinct steeped in the study and imitation of ancient literary models, and this unique combination of qualities has led to the nearly universal consensus that it was devised by Poliziano.
On the other hand, despite the classically pure conception of the Primavera, Botticelli made no attempt to portray the gods in their ancient guises, showing them instead in contemporary vernacular costumes: Mercury wears a burnished sallet and carries an elaborately worked and jewelled parade falchion as his sword; the Graces are clad in buttoned chemises adorned with beautiful brooches, the one worn by the right-hand Grace suspended from a braided rope of false hair used as a decorative embellishment and to bind an elaborate coiffure set off by a spectacular hair ornament attached to a string of pearls; Venus is shown in a gown decorated with gold appliqué, over which she wears a distinctly old-fashioned cape, from the hem of which hangs a densely clustered row of pearls; and finally Flora appears wearing a painted dress with gold-embroidered sleeves, tied fashionably across the forearm. The ancient gods are shown, in other words, as contemporary Florentines and, moreover, are dressed in quasi-theatrical costumes designed for masquerades of the sort that Vasari wrote were invented by Lorenzo de’ Medici for civic festivals and tournaments. Their vernacular character is also expressed in the normative conventions to which Botticelli turned in imagining the individual beauties of the several goddesses. These are not Classical but instead follow patterns specific to the vernacular convention, describing the beauty of the poet’s lady from the top of her head to the tip of the toe, praising her golden hair, broad and serene brow, perfectly arched black eyebrows, serious eyes and smiling mouth set with pearl-like teeth, cheeks of privet flushed with rose, breasts set like apples on her slightly bowed chest and every limb perfectly articulated. Here again the Primavera finds its closest parallels in the work of Poliziano, whose Stanze, exquisitely Latinate in allusions and formal language, detail and imagery, had been written in the vernacular and within vernacular conventions at Lorenzo’s behest.
Vernacular poetry is by definition poetry about the present and about love, the object of which—the poet’s lady—represents a particular ideal, whether it is the erotic and sensual lady of the troubadours, the Christ-like beatitude of Dante’s Beatrice, or the more purely poetic ideal celebrated in Laura by Petrarch. It is clear that the ideal portrayed in the Primavera is none of these, but is instead an idea of love invested in Venus, Venus in her fully recovered and understood Classical meaning as the animating spirit of regenerative life in nature and Venus, too, as the spirit animating the revival taking place in the Florentine present. As a concept of love, she finds her place in the great tradition of Italian love poetry. Yet as also a new concept defined by her very antiquity, a truly classic idea of love in the world completely assimilated within the vernacular tradition, Venus also redefines the present. While it is true that Ficino’s Neo-Platonic concept of love is not the same as that invested in the poetic lady of the troubadours or in Petrarch’s Laura, it is also true that in the Venus of the Primavera, as also for the lady described in Lorenzo de’ Medici’s Comento, the poetic and Petrarchan lady is for the first time conceived as a principle of natural, divine perfectibility attainable in this world. She may therefore be legitimately understood in the context of Ficino’s Neo-Platonism, bringing philosophy within the embrace of art, though not as the unitary expression of a single culture, high or low. Rather, the Primavera in its fullness, like Poliziano’s Stanze, embodies an art that is at its purest and most refined, while at the same time it draws from the wellspring of contemporary experience and the popular imagination as expressed in ballads and as enacted in the civic rituals of Florence.
(ii) The ‘Birth of Venus’.
As a new idea, the idea of love first given painted form in the Primavera naturally required a new style for its expression, the lineaments of which reached their full form in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. The subject is the same as in the Primavera, namely the springtime advent of Venus, with Zephyr carrying Chloris on the left, the roses generated by his warming breath falling to the earth, and Flora on the right, clad in her white dress painted with budding flowers and preparing to mantle the goddess with a fully flowered cloak. Here, however, Venus does not appear as the humble garden goddess she was for the primitive peoples but resplendently nude and in her Classical form, in fact so shown for the first time since antiquity. She is the fully conceived nature goddess of the Roman Empire, Venus Genetrix as hymned by Lucretius and as painted by Apelles in his famous Venus Anadyomene (‘foam-born Venus’), which Ovid described as ‘nuda Venus madidas exprimit imbre comas’, and to which Botticelli alluded in the goddess’s gesture of pressing her golden hair against her body. Though her individual features are still imagined in accordance with the normative Petrarchan conventions, namely dark and perfectly arched eyebrows, apple-like breasts and long golden tresses, these have been assimilated within a canon of beauty directly based on study of the ancient statue type of the Venus pudica, which gives a second meaning to Venus’s gesture of modestly veiling her private parts. It is through such assimilation and refinement of the means of art, elevating the expressive potential of received traditions through the study and redeployment of ancient models, that Botticelli’s art again finds its closest parallel with Poliziano’s Stanze, at one and the same time antico and nuovo, perfectly Latin in a vernacular mode.
(iii) ‘Mars and Venus’.
Venus again makes her appearance, dressed as a Florentine nymph, in the Mars and Venus (c. 1485; London, N.G.) but is here imagined in a darker guise. Though this painting too has been interpreted as possibly a marriage picture, or as a mildly erotic picture of post-coital contentment, the image it presents has a more sinister character. The satyriscus (little satyr) blowing a conch is an image uniquely determined by two ancient scholia to Aratus’s Phaenomena, published in Poliziano’s Miscellanea (1489) and there interpreted as denoting panic terrors, empty phantasms inspiring fear (which is also the meaning of the satyriscus masking himself with Mars’ helmet). Phantasmata are nightmare visions, and numerous ancient and Early Christian authorities, among them Augustine and Jerome, attested that satyrs and satyrisci were nightmare demons also known as incubi, which in their very nature especially provoked sexual terrors in the dreams of those bound in a state of sensual error and confusion. Mars in uneasy sleep is assailed by demons, who make lewd gestures towards Venus with their tongues and lift his jousting lance in order to poke a wasps’ nest in the hollow of a tree against which his head rests and around which angry wasps are beginning to swarm. The idea of love here invested in Venus seems to be revealed, not in a positive celebration of the spirit animating natural life shown in the Primavera and Birth of Venus but as an empty sensual fantasy that disarms and torments the slumbering spirit of a once virile martial valour.
(iv) The ‘Calumny of Apelles’.
A similar pessimism can perhaps be discerned in Botticelli’s Calumny of Apelles, a profoundly humanist work based on Lucian’s rhetorical essay on Slander. The painting announces its theme of Slander by reference to a koinos topos (literary commonplace), Lucian’s ekphrasis of an allegorical painting by Apelles in which Calumny, adorned by Treachery and Deceit, appears accusing Innocence before an ass-eared Judge whose heart is moved by her beauty and the blandishments of Ignorance and Suspicion, even as Repentance escorts Truth, too late, into the Judgement Hall. The genre of Botticelli’s painting is determined by Lucian, whose essay is a virtuoso exercise in the rhetoric of display and whose subject is the power of rhetoric to make the heart love even that which is vile and putrid. The form given by Botticelli to the particular topos of Apelles’ Calumny is calculated to provoke a further rhetorical response to the theme of Slander by setting the story in a Judgement Hall richly ornamented with sculptures that supply other topoi variously drawn from ancient history (the Justice of Trajan), biblical narrative (Judith and Holofernes), ancient myth (Apollo and Daphne) and vernacular story (Nastagio degli Onesti). Strictly speaking, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ iconographical reading of his painting in the narrow sense, save for its injunction to the viewer to blame the demon Calumny, tricked out in the seductive rhetorical colours of Treachery and Deceit, and to praise naked Truth who has no need of artful adornment. This may be done in general and in particular, with reference to legendary and historical examples on the one hand or to real people and current events on the other. Underlying the theme of Slander is a genuine preoccupation with the fictive powers of art to move the heart, not only to love of the truth, but also to love of falsity and evil.
2. Religious works.
The same lineaments of poetic beauty that characterize the protagonists of the Primavera and the Birth of Venus are also evident in Botticelli’s depictions of the Virgin, saints and angels in such religious works as the St Barnabas Altarpiece, the Bardi Altarpiece and the great tondi of the Madonna of the Magnificat and the Madonna of the Pomegranate. In all of them the Virgin appears blonde and with black eyebrows arched in a perfect bow, her flesh tones painted in the perfect ivory and vermilion colours of the Petrarchan lady. The paradise created by the presence of the lady, a convention of love poetry spectacularly made visible in the garden setting of the Primavera, finds its poignantly evocative counterpart in the Bardi Altarpiece, which also embodies a new poetic invention on the religious theme of the Immaculate Conception, a subject then yet to be given its canonical formulation in the conventions of painting. The Virgin appears enthroned, with SS John the Baptist and John the Evangelist standing on either side, in a hortus conclusus (enclosed garden), a perfected earthly paradise ornamented with the plants that provide the biblical basis for her immaculacy: the rose of Jericho, the cedar of Lebanon, the olive and the lily. In such works too the Virgin is shown as a contemporary young Florentine woman, her chemise appearing in puffs at the sleeves, wearing luxurious transparent veils and her costume elaborately embroidered with gold at the hems.
The Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola undoubtedly had such images in mind when he complained that the images in the churches of the Virgin, St Elizabeth and the Magdalene were painted like nymphs in the likenesses of the young women of Florence, thundering: ‘You have made the Virgin appear dressed as a whore’. In his sermons he upbraided the young women of Florence for wearing such dress and castigated painters for representing them in sacred guise, urging everyone to burn their copies of the Decameron and all lascivious images. Savonarola’s preaching in the 1490s had become highly apocalyptic in character, warning of the punishment to be visited on the city for its sins and of the impending end of the world, and his sermons increasingly adopted the eschatological methods of Joachim of Fiore who, in the 12th century, had been the first to interpret the book of the Apocalypse in the light of contemporary figures and events. Not long after executing the Calumny of Apelles, Botticelli painted the Mystic Crucifixion, in which a view of Florence appears sparkling in the sunlight, a kind of new Jerusalem cleansed after suffering God’s wrath, the flagellum Dei (scourge of God) imagined as fiery torches raining through a dark storm cloud retreating from the city.
The imagery of the Mystic Nativity was motivated by the same interpretative schemata that Savonarola had revived. The painting bears a Greek inscription identifying its subject as the Second Coming of Christ as foretold in the Revelation of St John and announcing Christ’s coming in the year 1500 during the tribulations then afflicting the Italian peninsula. The inscription reads:
I, Alessandro, painted this picture at the end of the year 1500, in the troubles of Italy, in the half-time after the time, during the fulfilment of the 11th chapter of John, in the second woe of the Apocalypse, in the loosing of the devil for three and a half years. Afterward he shall be chained according to the 12th chapter and we shall see him [trodden down] as in this picture.
In the painting five devils are shown crushed in sliding crevasses opening up in the earth. In the foreground angels embrace three robed men crowned with the poet’s bay, and two more angels bearing laurel branches stand to either side of the crib presenting five worshippers to the infant Christ, two of them clearly identifiable as shepherds and all of them similarly crowned with laurel. The three angels who kneel on the roof of the stable, dressed in red, white and green, are especially significant in the context of Joachimistic prophecy, as are the 12 angels bearing crowns and laurel branches, also dressed in red, white and green (the green a verdigris that has deteriorated to brown), who descend to earth in a golden circle of light. The colours are those traditionally assigned to Charity (red), Faith (white) and Hope (green), and it had been Joachim who identified the three realms, or stages, of the world with an Old Testament age of Hope, a New Testament age of Faith and a post-Apocalyptic age of Charity, or perfect Love, the future age initiated by the Second Coming of Christ. He named this as the age of the eternal Evangel (the book held by the central angel painted by Botticelli on the roof of the shed), when Hope and Faith would come together in perfect Charity, and he imagined that with the Second Coming of Christ and the expulsion of the devil from the world heaven would descend to earth and join with it, and men and angels would live together for a thousand years in a state of Christian love, until the end of the world in the day of the Last Judgement.
The Savonarolan image of the Second Coming painted in the Mystic Nativity is at the same time humanistically determined, as the wording of the inscription in Greek makes clear. The 12 angels bearing laurel branches and 12 crowns (an allusion to the 12-gated city of the Revelation of John, the new Jerusalem with a gate for each of the 12 tribes of Israel) strongly resemble the Florentine nymphs of Botticelli’s mythological pictures, and the men embraced by angels appear as poets crowned with Laurentian no less than Petrarchan laurel. The concept of the painting, in other words, is as much indebted to the Medicean poets and humanists formerly supported by Lorenzo the Magnificent, many of whom had become followers of Savonarola known as the Laurentians, as it is of the apocalyptic visions of the friar himself. An idea of Love originally personified as Venus, expressing a yearning for a lost age of perfection once attained by the ancients, has changed into a new idea of Love figured in Charity, expressing a yearning for an as yet unattained age of perfection. That these two different ideas of Love find their common ground in art, in the perfection of humanity through poetry, is also consistent within the work of a painter whose last years were spent in reading and illustrating the poetic theology of Dante and who, in Vasari’s view, wasted his time commenting on it. However that may be, the Mystic Nativity is Botticelli’s most ambitious late painting, conceived on the basis of a Dantean assimilation of theology into poetry.
III. Working methods and technique.
Since the 1980s Botticelli’s panel paintings have been the subject of considerable scientific examination, with the result that a great deal is known about his technique. Botticelli was highly skilled and employed the same methods consistently throughout his career, but though conservative in his approach, he was not unwilling to vary the usual procedures to adopt recent innovations. This is most notable in his use of tempera grassa, a medium that was new to Italy, in which the egg yolk (the usual binder for tempera) was modified by the addition of oil to make the paint more transparent.
In many respects, however, Botticelli followed the traditional methods that had been perfected in the previous century and were described by Cennino Cennini in his Libro dell’arte of the 1390s (see Panel painting, §1, and Tempera, §1). Like most Italian panels of the period, the support was poplar coated with gesso. On this the contours of the figures were established by a careful underdrawing in charcoal, done freehand without a cartoon, and the architectural features were indicated by incised lines made with a stylus. He then laid in the foundation colours, which varied according to the area of the finished painting: white lead, or the unprimed gesso, provided a base for the flesh tones, carbon black or malachite for the trees and landscape. Then—and here he departed from Cennini—he made a second preparatory drawing in black ink and wash applied with a brush, resetting the contours and giving his figures body and weight through modelling the lights and shadows. Many pentiments occur at this stage, notably in the placement of the hands and feet, indicating the importance to Botticelli of gestural expressiveness and graceful movement. Though these underdrawings are clearly defined—indeed virtually complete monochromes—they do not extend to broad areas of sky and landscape background, a phenomenon that recalls Leonardo’s criticism of Botticelli for being indifferent to such things (see M. Kemp and M. Walker, Leonardo on Painting, New Haven and London, 1989, pp. 201–2).
Botticelli’s pigments were of the finest, including malachite, verdigris (copper green), ultramarine, cinnabar, red, white and yellow lead, red lake and carbon black. Generally they were applied in thin, opaque layers known as ‘scumbles’, but the reds and dark greens were frequently glazed. As the painting was built up, it gradually acquired a compact density, producing an exquisite, enamelled effect composed of infinite tonal gradations that create an extraordinary luminous subtlety, especially in areas representing reflected light. Unfortunately, many of his paintings have lost the fullness of their beauty with the passage of time, sometimes owing to abrasion or over-zealous restoration, sometimes to the tendency of colours to become more transparent or to change their nature over the years. Copper resinate, for example, which Botticelli employed extensively, turns from green to brown, resulting not only in an irreversible chromatic change but also in excessive contrast and loss of luministic gradation. An example appears in the green vestment worn by St Augustine in the S Marco Coronation of the Virgin, where the copper resinate glazed over malachite has permanently darkened, which flattens the voluminous effect of the garment. Another is in the Primavera, in which the bright white of the Graces’ gowns is permanently out of balance with the darkened greenery behind.
Botticelli’s technique is at its most refined in the rendering of the flesh tones, in which semi-transparent ochres, whites, cinnabars and red lakes are laid over one another in such minute brushstrokes as to render the gradations all but invisible. The faces of his women are exquisitely pale and porcelain-like, with the faintest pink blushes in the areas of the cheeks, nose and mouth, thus embodying the familiar Petrarchan metaphorical conventions. By contrast his infants and children are endowed with more intensely coloured, ruddier complexions made by cinnabar glazes and accents in red lake, while his men appear with darker flesh modelled from ochre applied over the black wash underdrawing, which sometimes remains visible and reinforces the more pronounced male bone structure and such features as the eye cavities. For gilding Botticelli often used finely powdered gold mixed with an adhesive and applied like any other colour. In the Birth of Venus and the Madonna of the Magnificat, for example, this gold paint, known as shell gold (conchiglia), was used to represent highlights in the hair, again rendering as literal the Petrarchan likening of the lady’s tresses to spun gold. The decorative patterns of Venus’s and Flora’s costumes in the Primavera were also painted in shell gold, the gold being overpainted with red lake and black where the garments turn into the shadow. Similar effects appear throughout the whole of Botticelli’s oeuvre. A further example of his illusionistic use of gold appears in the Madonna of the Pomegranate, in which the checked blanket beneath the infant Christ is rendered in malachite painted over gold leaf. Using a technique known as sgraffito, Botticelli then scratched through the green pigment to create the gold-checked pattern; in the areas of shadow the gold itself was scratched through to the underlying red bole.
As might be expected from the tensile line characterizing the figures in his paintings, Botticelli’s drawings demonstrate that he was a superb draughtsman. Vasari indeed singled out Botticelli’s drawings for the care and judgement the artist expended on them and said that because of their excellence they were greatly sought after by other artists. Undoubtedly many have perished because of frequent use by those artists, but exquisite examples survive (among them a famous study for a Pallas). These show Botticelli’s refined skill with chalk, pen and bistre, and also tempera, and his pioneering use of paper tinted with roses, violets, yellows and greys, which establish a middle value for figures, modelled up with whites in the light and down with darker colours and washes into the shadows. The Dante illustrations are unique in being executed only in outline (as Botticelli intended to colour them). They comprise 92 parchment sheets (divided between Berlin and the Vatican) illustrated on one side and with the text of an entire canto written on the other by Niccolò Mangona, who worked as a scribe in Florence between 1482 and 1503. The drawings vary greatly in completion, and some were never begun. They were initially scratched into the parchment, then overdrawn with slate and ink preparatory to being filled in with coloured inks. Some of the ink tracing is done with the utmost care, some is less advanced (and in places scratched out with a pin), and execution of the colouring did not progress very far.
In common with other painters of the time, Botticelli worked with craftsmen in other media, for example providing designs for ecclesiastical vestments and furnishings (examples in Sibiu, Brukenthal Mus.; Milan, Mus. Poldi Pezzoli). He painted decorations for Florentine civic celebrations, the most famous of which was the banner (destr.) carried by Giuliano de’ Medici in his famous joust of 1475, and Vasari reported that he devised a new, more permanent method using coloured strips of cloth for realizing such images. He also worked closely with masters in the new art of engraving, supplying drawings for Baccio Baldini in particular, but the precise nature of his participation in this popular form of image-making, though certainly extensive, has yet to be established. The problem is complicated by the fact that his engravers were able to reproduce his characteristic style only superficially, as seen, for example, in the engravings after Botticelli’s designs for Cristoforo Landino’s edition (1481) of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
IV. Character and personality.
In the first edition of the Vite (1550), Vasari cast Botticelli’s biography as a kind of morality play, describing him as a quick-witted, high-spirited and worldly youth who won success quickly, only to decline with the turn of Fortune’s wheel into inactivity, poverty and religious despair in old age. Mentally hyperactive and impatient in school, he was withdrawn early and apprenticed, his talent immediately becoming apparent. He enjoyed patronage from the most important Florentine families, in particular the Vespucci and the Medici, and Vasari emphasized his closeness to Lorenzo the Magnificent. Botticelli never married, instead preferring the companionship of his family, friends and workshop, which was quite large. Vasari also stressed the artist’s sharp wit, his love of clever sayings and practical jokes, describing him as a person of sophistication who greatly admired people knowledgeable about art, but who lost precious time commenting on Dante and drawing illustrations for the Divine Comedy. According to Vasari, in later years he fell victim to melancholy and became a follower of Savonarola. Vasari softened this portrait in the second edition of the Vite (1568), in which he deleted his moral judgement on Botticelli’s decline and enriched his biography with additional factual and anecdotal detail, but the essential outline remains the same. Though his report of Botticelli’s poverty and inactivity in the last 15 years of his life is to some degree exaggerated, the overall picture has not substantially altered.
Botticelli’s links with the wider family of Lorenzo de’ Medici were extensive, at least until Lorenzo’s death in 1492 and the expulsion of the Medici two years later. There is reason to think that his first important commission, Fortitude (1470), was won through Lorenzo’s influence, occasioning the breaking of the contract originally awarded to Pollaiuolo, and the St Sebastian (1473–4) may have been commissioned by Lorenzo himself. Botticelli is mentioned in Lorenzo’s own comic poem I beoni (‘The drinkers’; 1472–4). Poliziano, tutor to Lorenzo’s son Piero, recorded three of Botticelli’s jokes in his Detti piacevoli (1477–82). Two of them were repeated by the Anonimo Magliabecchiano (c. 1540), and the third is a quadruple play on words: ‘Un bisticcio piacevole mi disse a questi dì Sandro di Botticello:—Questo vetro chi ’l votrà? Vo’ tre, e io v’atrò!’ (‘The other day Sandro Botticelli told me a pleasing pun:—‘Who’ll empty this glass? You’ll need three, and I’ll help them!’). Poliziano has long been recognized as responsible for helping Botticelli with the inventions for some of his paintings of mythological subjects (see §III above). On a more extensive plane, the immersion in poetry that is implied by Vasari’s statement that Botticelli ‘commented on’ Dante similarly finds expression in the inventions and interpretative decorum that inform his mythological paintings.
Botticelli’s brother Simone is documented as a piagnone, or ‘weeper’, as Savonarola’s followers were called, and Vasari was doubtless correct in reporting that Botticelli himself was ‘extremely partisan to that sect’. The Greek inscription with which Botticelli signed and dated the Mystic Nativity clearly indicates a humanist point of departure and suggests that Botticelli, like the philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463–94) and many humanists formerly protected by Lorenzo de’ Medici, had become moved by Savonarola’s apocalyptic preaching after Lorenzo’s death and in the face of the consequent turmoil that beset Florence and Italy.
V. Posthumous reputation.
Having been one of the most esteemed painters in Italy during his lifetime, Botticelli was soon eclipsed by the artists of the High Renaissance and long neglected thereafter. Despite occasional references to his art in such ultramontanist works as Alexis-François Rio’s De l’art chrétien (1861–7), a fragmentary version of which was published in 1836, Botticelli’s reputation did not enjoy a notable rise in critical esteem until the end of the 19th century; notwithstanding John Ruskin’s moralistic—and ambiguous—treatment of him in the 1870s, it has been shown that, contrary to common supposition, neither the Nazarenes in Germany nor the Pre-Raphaelites in England were especially interested in him. Nevertheless, important paintings by Botticelli were gradually entering the great museums of Europe. The St Sebastian and the Bardi altarpiece, for example, went to Berlin in the 1820s and Mars and Venus to the National Gallery in London in the 1860s, the decade in which the Primavera and Birth of Venus were also given prominent public display for the first time in the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence. The Villa Lemmi frescoes were acquired by the Louvre, Paris, in the 1870s and three of the four Nastagio degli Onesti panels by the Prado, Madrid, at the end of the century. Museum acquisition and display were slightly in advance of public and critical response and in an important way laid the foundations for it.
The true revival of interest in Botticelli was the product of gradually developing 19th-century interest in the literary and political culture in Florence at the time of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and the concomitant rise in appreciation for the arts contemporary with him. William Roscoe’s Life of Lorenzo de’ Medici (London, 1796, rev. Heidelberg, 2/1825–6), which published many of his poems and those of his humanist contemporaries, Giosué Carducci’s preface to his edition (1863) of Poliziano’s Stanze, and numerous documentary and philological studies by Carducci’s collaborator Isidoro del Lungo set high standards both of scholarship and sensibility. This sensibility found a response in Walter Pater’s famous essay of 1873, and it was these works, and the literature to which they gave rise, that also set the tone for the earliest scholarly studies of Botticelli: in Germany with Warburg’s dissertation (1893) on the Primavera and Birth of Venus, which inspired an entire school of art-historical research, and Ulmann’s monograph (1893), the first devoted to him; and in the UK and USA with the Aesthetic Movement that stemmed from Pater and found its scholarly fruition in the work of Crowe (1886), Berenson (1896) and Horne (1908), whose monograph on Botticelli, dedicated to Pater, is perhaps the best that has ever been written on any Renaissance artist. The quality of Warburg’s and Horne’s work in particular ensured the centrality of Botticelli’s achievement to subsequent evaluations of Renaissance art and culture. Investigation of the Neo-Platonic foundations to the Renaissance revival of antique forms, for example, especially as undertaken by Chastel, Wind and Panofsky, has in particular taken Botticelli’s mythologies as a primary point of departure. Since the 1890s Botticelli’s stature has been accorded the full critical and historical acknowledgement that is its due, and this will undoubtedly continue to be true in proportion as the stature of Renaissance culture in 15th-century Florence is itself acknowledged and valued.
- A. Poliziano: Detti piacevoli (MS., 1477–82); ed. T. Zanato (Rome, 1983)
- A. Billi: Il libro di Antonio Billi (MS., c. 1481–1536; Florence, Bib. N.); ed. C. Frey (Berlin, 1892)
- F. Albertini: Memoriale di molte statue et picture sono nella inclyta ciptà di Florentia (Florence, 1510); ed. O. Campa (Florence, 1932)
- Il codice Magliabechiano (MS., c. 1540; Florence, Bib. N.); ed. C. Frey (Berlin, 1892)
- G. Vasari: Vite (1550, rev. 2/1568); ed. G. Milanesi, 3 (1878–85), pp. 309–331
- V. Borghini: Il riposo (Florence, 1584)
- F. Bocchi: Le bellezze della città di Fiorenza (Florence, 1591); rev. G. Cinelli (Florence, 1677)
- J. A. Crowe and G. B. Cavalcaselle: Storia della pittura italiana dal secolo II al secolo XVI (Florence, 1894), 6, pp. 203–310
- B. Berenson: Florentine Painters of the Renaissance (New York, 1896/R 1900, 1909)
- R. van Marle: Italian Schools, 12 (1931)
- E. Wind: Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance (London, 1958) [the most important and complete Neo-Platonic interpretation of Botticelli’s mythological paintings]
- A. Chastel: Art et humanisme à Florence au temps de Laurent le Magnifique (Paris, 1959, rev. 1982)
- E. Panofsky: Renaissance and Renascences in Western Art (Stockholm, 1960/R New York, 1972)
- L. D. Ettlinger: The Sistine Chapel before Michelangelo: Religious Imagery and Papal Primacy (Oxford, 1965)
- R. Salvini and E. Camesasca: La Cappella Sistina in Vaticano (Milan, 1965)
- M. Reeves: The Influence of Prophecy in the Later Middle Ages: A Study in Joachimism (Oxford, 1969)
- D. Weinstein: Savonarola and Florence: Prophecy and Patriotism in the Renaissance (Princeton, 1970)
- A. Garzelli: Il ricamo nell’attività artistica di Pollaiuolo, Botticelli, e Bartolomeo di Giovanni (Florence, 1973)
- K. Langedijk: The Portraits of the Medici, 15th–18th Centuries, 3 vols (Florence, 1981–7)
- S. Meltzoff: Botticelli, Signorelli and Savonarola: Theologia, Poetica and Painting from Boccaccio to Poliziano (Florence, 1987)
- J.-M. Massing: La Calomnie d’Apelle (Strasbourg, 1990)
- Botticelli’s witness: Changing Style in a Changing Florence (exh. cat. by L. Kanter, H. T. Goldfarb and J. Hawkins, Boston, MA, Isabella Stewart Gardner Mus., 1997)
- W. Pater: ‘Sandro Botticelli’, Studies in the History of the Renaissance (London, 1873); rev. as The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry (London, 1877, rev. 4/1893); ed. D. L. Hill (Berkeley, 1980)
- H. Ulmann: Sandro Botticelli (Munich, 1893)
- A. Warburg: Botticellis ‘Geburt der Venus’ und ‘Frühling’: Eine Untersuchung über die Vorstellungen von der Antike in der italienischen Frührenaissance (Hamburg and Leipzig, 1893); repr. in Gesammelte Schriften (Leipzig and Berlin, 1932), pp. 1–60; It. trans. in La rinascita del paganesimo antico (Florence, 1966), pp. 1–58
- H. P. Horne: Alessandro Filipepi Commonly Called Sandro Botticelli, Painter of Florence (London, 1908/R Princeton, 1980, rev. Florence, 1986) [still fundamental, with documents and original texts of early biographers; 1986 edn contains Horne’s previously unpubd notes]
- J. Mesnil: Sandro Botticelli (Paris, 1938)
- R. Salvini: Tutta la pittura del Botticelli (Milan, 1958) [complete illus]
- G. C. Argan: Botticelli (Geneva, 1967)
- G. Mandel: L’opera completa del Botticelli (Milan, 1967) [complete illus]
- R. Lightbown: Sandro Botticelli, 2 vols (London, 1978); rev. as Sandro Botticelli: Life and Work (London, 1989)
- U. Baldini: Botticelli (Florence, 1988)
- N. Pons: Botticelli: Catalogo completo (Milan, 1989) [complete illus]
- C. Caneva: Botticelli: Catalogo completo (Florence, 1990) [complete illus]
- M. Togner: Sandro Botticelli (Brno, 1994)
- G. Poggi: ‘La Giostra Medicea del 1475 e la “Pallade” del Botticelli’, L’Arte, 5 (1902), pp. 71–7
- J. Mesnil: ‘Les Figures des Vertus de la Mercanzia: Piero del Pollaiuolo et Botticelli’, Miscellanea d’arte: Rivista mensile di storia dell’arte medievale e moderna [cont. as Riv. A.], 1 (1903), pp. 43–6
- J. Mesnil: ‘Botticelli à Rome’, Rivista d’arte, 3 (1905), pp. 112–23
- H. P. Horne: ‘The Last Communion of St Jerome by Botticelli’, Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 10 (1915), pp. 52–6, 72–5, 101–5
- E. H. Gombrich: ‘Botticelli’s Mythologies: A Study in the Neoplatonic Symbolism of his Circle’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes [prev. pubd as J. Warb. Inst.], 8 (1945), pp. 7–60; repr. in Symbolic Images (London, 1972), pp. 31–81
- J. Pope-Hennessy: Botticelli: The ‘Nativity’ in the National Gallery (London, 1947)
- P. Francastel: ‘La Fête mythologique au Quattrocento: Expression littéraire et visualisation plastique’, Revue d’esthétique, 5 (1952), pp. 376–410; repr. in Oeuvres, 2 (Paris, 1965)
- P. Francastel: ‘Un mito poetico y social del Quattrocento: La Primavera’, Torre: Revista general de la Universidad de Puerto Rico, 5 (1957), pp. 23–41; repr. in Oeuvres, 2 (Paris, 1965)
- M. Levey: ‘Botticelli and Nineteenth-century England’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes [prev. pubd as J. Warb. Inst.], 23 (1960), pp. 291–306
- L. Donati: Il Botticelli e le prime illustrazioni della Divina commedia (Florence, 1962)
- G. Walton: ‘The Lucretia Panel in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston’, Essays in Honor of Walter Friedlaender (New York, 1965), pp. 177–86
- C. Dempsey: ‘Mercurius Ver: The Sources of Botticelli’s Primavera’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes [prev. pubd as J. Warb. Inst.], 31 (1968), pp. 251–73
- W. Welliver: ‘The Meaning and Purpose of Botticelli’s Court of Venus and Mars and Venus’, Art Quarterly [Detroit], 33 (1970), pp. 347–55
- C. Dempsey: ‘Botticelli’s Three Graces’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes [prev. pubd as J. Warb. Inst.], 34 (1971), pp. 326–30
- J. Shearman: ‘The Collection of the Younger Branch of the Medici’, Burlington Magazine, 117 (1975), pp. 12–27
- W. Smith: ‘On the Original Location of the Primavera’, Art Bulletin, 57 (1975), pp. 31–40
- K. Clark: The Drawings by Botticelli for Dante’s Divine Comedy, after the Originals in the Berlin Museums and the Vatican (London, 1976)
- R. Hatfield: Botticelli’s Uffizi ‘Adoration’: A Study in Pictorial Content (Princeton, 1976)
- M. Levi D’Ancona: Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’: A Botanical Interpretation Including Astrology, Alchemy and the Medici (Florence, 1983)
- U. Baldini and others: La Primavera del Botticelli: Storia di un quadro e di un restauro (Florence, 1984); Eng. trans. by M. Fitton as Primavera: The Restoration of Botticelli’s Masterpiece (London, 1984)
- E. Callmann: ‘Botticelli’s Life of San Zenobius’, Art Bulletin, 66 (1984), pp. 492–5
- P. Dreyer: ‘Botticelli’s Series of Engravings of “1481”’, Print Quarterly, 1/2 (1984), pp. 111–15
- P. Dreyer: Dantes Divina Commedia mit den Illustrationen von Sandro Botticelli (Zurich, 1986)
- A. del Serra and others: ‘La Nascita di Venere’ e ‘l’Annunciazione’ del Botticelli restaurate, Florence, Uffizi, Studi e Ricerche, 4 (Florence, 1987)
- R. Stapleford: ‘Botticelli’s Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Trecento Medallion’, Burlington Magazine, 139 (1987), pp. 428–36
- P. Dreyer: ‘Raggio Sensale, Giuliano da Sangallo und Sandro Botticelli—Der Höllentrichter’, Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, 29–30 (1987–8), pp. 179–86
- H. Bredekamp: Botticelli ‘Primavera’: Florenz als Garten der Venus (Frankfurt am Main, 1988)
- S. Buske: Sandro Botticelli, Weibliches Brustbildnis (Idealbildnis Simonetta Vespucci?) (Frankfurt am Main, 1988)
- ‘L’Incoronazione della Vergine’ del Botticelli: Restauro e ricerche (exh. cat., ed. M. Ciatti; Florence, Uffizi, 1990)
- C. Dempsey: The Portrayal of Love: Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’ and Florentine Humanist Culture at the Time of Lorenzo the Magnificent (Princeton, 1992)
- A. C. Blume: ‘Botticelli’s Family and Finances in the 1490s: Santa Maria Nuova and the San Marco Altarpiece’, Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Instituts in Florenz, 38/1 (1994), pp. 154–64
- R. Stapleford: ‘Intellect and Intuition in Botticelli’s Saint Augustine’, Art Bulletin, 76 (March 1994), pp. 69–80
- P. Barolsky: ‘The Ethereal Voluptas of Botticelli’, Konsthistorisk tidskrift [Art historical magazine], 64/2 (1995), pp. 65–70
- A. C. Blume: ‘Giovanni de Bardi and Sandro Botticelli in Santo Spirito’, Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen, 37 (1995), pp. 169–83
- R. Hatfield: ‘Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity, Savonarola and the Millennium’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes [prev. pubd as J. Warb. Inst.], 58 (1995), pp. 88–114
- R. J. M. Olson: ‘An Old Mystery Solved: The 1487 Payment Document to Botticelli for a Tondo’, Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Instituts in Florenz, 39/2/3 (1995), pp. 393–6
- P. Barolsky and A. Barriault: ‘Botticelli’s Primavera and the Origins of the Elegaic in Italian Renaissance Painting’, Gazette des beaux-arts [suppl. is Chron. A.], 128 (Sept 1996), pp. 63–70
- M. W. Kwakkelstein: ‘Botticelli, Leonardo and a Morris Dance’, Print Quarterly, 15/1 (March 1998), pp. 3–14
- H-Th. Schulze Altcappenberg, P. Keller, and J. Schewski: Sandro Botticelli: the Drawings for Dante’s Divine Comedy (exh. cat.; London, 2000)
- C. Acidini Luchinat: Botticelli: les allégories mythologiques (Paris, 2001)
- D. Arasse and P. De Vecchi: Botticelli: from Lorenzo the Magnificent to Savonarola (exh. cat.; Milan, 2003)
- D. Arasse and others: Botticelli e Filippino: l’inquietudine e la grazia nella pittura fiorentina del Quattrocento (exh. cat.; Milan, 2004)
- D. Dombrowski: ‘“Terrae praesens non abest ab aethere”: Botticellis Mann mit Medaille als Beitrag zum Menschenbild des späten Quattrocento’, Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch, 65 (2004), pp. 35–70
- A. Cecchi: Botticelli (Milan, 2005)
- F. Zollner: Sandro Botticelli (Munich, 2005)
- E. Guidoni: La Primavera di Botticelli: l’armonia tra le città nell’Italia di Lorenzo il Magnifico (Rome, 2005)
Gay and lesbian art, §1: Questions of identity, before the 1890s
- Michelangelo: Doni Tondo (Holy Family), c. 1505-7, Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Return of Judith, c. 1472, Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Madonna of the Rosengarden, c. 1469-70, Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Ghirlandaio, Domenico: Adoration of the Magi, c. 1487, Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Portrait of a Man with the Medal of Cosimo the Elder, c. 1470-5, Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Sant' Ambrogio Altarpiece, c. 1467-70, Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Giuliano de' Medici, c. 1478, National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Nativity, 1475-80, Columbia Museum of Art (Columbia, SC)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Madonna and Child, the Young St John and Two Angels, c. 1470, Galleria dell'Accademia (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Madonna and Child, c. 1470, National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Madonna and Child with Angels, 1465-70, National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Madonna and Child with an Angel, 1471, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, MA)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Adoration of the Magi, c. 1470-75, National Gallery (London)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Giuliano de' Medici, 1478, Staatliche Museen, Gemldegalerie (Berlin)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Portrait of a Young Woman (La Bella Simonetta), 1475, Palazzo Pitti (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Portrait of a Young Man, c. 1469, Galleria Palatina (Palazzo Pitti) (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Adoration of the Magi, c. 1476, Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Adoration of the Kings, c. 1470, National Gallery (London)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Abundance or Autumn, c. 1475-82, British Museum (London)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Madonna and Child with Adoring Angel, c. 1468, Norton Simon Museum (Pasadena, CA)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Judith with the Head of Holofernes, c. 1469-70, Cincinnati Art Museum (Cincinnati, OH)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Fortitude, 1470, Gallerie degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Discovery of the Murder of Holofernes, 1487, Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Magnificat Madonna, c. 1483-5, Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Pallas and the Centaur, c. 1480, Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Annunciation (Cestello Annunciation), 1489, Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Adoration of the Magi, early 1480s, National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Portrait of a Youth, early 1480s, National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Saint Roch between SS Anthony Abbot and Catherine of Alexandria, c. 1485-95, National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Virgin Adoring the Child, 1480-90, National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Madonna and Child (Madonna with the Book), 1483, Museo Poldi Pezzoli (Milan)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Story of Nastagio degli Onesti, 1483, Museo del Prado (Madrid)
- Botticelli, Sandro: San Barnaba Altarpiece (Madonna enthroned with saints, 1490, Gallerie degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Coronation of the Virgin (San Marco Altarpiece, 1490, Gallerie degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, 1480-82, Vatican Palace, Sistine Chapel (Vatican, Rome)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Venus and the Graces Offering Gifts to a Young Girl (Giovanna degli Albizzi?), c. 1483-5, Muse du Louvre (Paris)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Adoration of the Child, c. 1500, North Carolina Museum of Art (Raleigh, NC)
- Botticelli, Sandro: The Resurrected Christ, 1480, Detroit Institute of Arts (Detroit, MI)
- Botticelli, Sandro: The Annunciation, c. 1485, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Portrait of Young Woman, after 1480, Staatliche Museen (Berlin)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Portrait of a Young Man, c. 1480-85, National Gallery (London)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Birth of Venus, c. 1485, Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Allegory of Spring (Primavera), c. 1481, Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Madonna of the Pomegranate, 1487, Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Venus and Mars, c. 1485, National Gallery (London)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Calumny, c. 1490, Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Youth presented to the Liberal Arts, c. 1497, Muse du Louvre (Paris)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Madonna and Child with St John the Baptist, 1490-1500, Museu de Arte de So Paulo (So Paulo)
- Botticelli, Sandro: The Last Communion of Saint Jerome, early 1490s, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Lamentation over the Dead Christ, 1495, Museo Poldi Pezzoli (Milan)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius, 1500-10, Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius, c. 1500, National Gallery (London)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Adoration of the Christ Child, c. 1500, Museum of Fine Art (Houston, TX)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Four Scenes from the Early Life of Saint Zenobius, c. 1500, National Gallery (London)
- Michelangelo: David, 1503-6, Galleria dell'Accademia (Florence)
- Leonardo da Vinci: Adoration of the Magi, 1481-2, Galleria degli Uffizi (Florence)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Mystical Nativity, c. 1500, National Gallery (London)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Mystic Crucifixion, c. 1500, Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA)
- Botticelli, Sandro: Head of a Young Man, Muse des Beaux-Arts (Rennes)