"If Botticelli were alive now he'd be working for Vogue," the famous actor, Peter Ustinov once remarked. This may be true but the beauty and delicate detail of the paintings of this great Renaissance artist will always be admired by critics and the public alike. The Primavera and The Birth of Venus which both hang in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence are probably his best known works of art.
Sandro Botticelli, whose real name was Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi was born in Florence, a city dominated by Lorenzo de'Medici and the fanatical Savonarola, in 1445. Florence was the centre of Italian art and culture and Botticelli chose to live the whole of his life in this beautiful city.
The painter's parents were considered very old to have a child at that time, his father was 50 and his mother was 40. He was ill for most of his life and doctors attributed this to the advanced age of his parents but there were advantages for the son of elderly parents. He enjoyed a privileged existence as his father was, by this time, an accomplished craftsman, a tanner, who became friendly with Giovanni Rucellai, a very wealthy and important Florentine banker and politician.
Botticelli's unusual nickname which means 'little barrels' was either the nickname of one of his brothers, Antonio, a goldsmith, or the nickname of the goldsmith to whom he was first apprenticed. The Tuscan word for goldbeater is battigello and Botticelli would have had to beat gold during his apprenticeship.
During his apprenticeship in the highly skilled and valued work the very handsome young painter learned engraving, chasing and enameling, but he remained extremely ambitious to become a famous artist. He became an assistant to the highly acclaimed artist, Fra Filippo Lippi, who trained him as an artist. According to an article at supernatural minds.com Lippi's influence can be seen in Botticelli's 'decorative details in Gothic style, as well as 3-D forms and communicative facial expressions and gestures.'
Eventually the young painter became established enough to open his own workshop and Lippi chose him to train his young son, Filippino, to be an artist. They joined the Compagnia de San Luca, patron of the painter's guild.
True success did not arrive, however, until Botticelli began to paint for the Medici family. He painted a banner with a picture of the beautiful Simonetta Vespucci for Giuliano Medici to carry in La Giostra (a jousting tournament). Beneath the banner was the French inscription, La Sans Pareille, "the unparalleled one". Giuliano romantically won and Simonetta, who was already married to Marco Vespucci, became his mistress.
The painter was opposed to ever marrying. Botticelli told someone who was encouraging him to marry: "I'll tell you what happened one of these nights. I was dreaming that I had got married and such was my despair that I woke up. Rather than repeat the same dream, I got up and walked the streets at night like a madman."
He was greatly impressed by Simonetta's beauty, however, and used her as the model for the goddess of love and beauty in his wonderful The Birth of Venus as well as many other paintings. This painting, Primavera, and many others were based on ancient Greek and Roman mythology.
The Pope, Sixtus IV, commissioned Botticelli and two other famous painters, Rosselli and Ghirlandaio, and Perugino to paint frescoes for the Sistine Chapel. He was also noted for his beautiful depictions of the Virgin Mary, especially in the Magnificat and Madonna of the Pomegranate.
Botticelli's ideal woman, exemplified by Simonetta, had an ethereal look, but was curvy with long blonde hair and blue eyes.
The great Renaissance Master died in 1510 after many years of being unable to paint. He never did marry but asked to be buried at la Bella Simonetta's feet, thirty-four years after her death.