Sandro Botticelli came into the world at a very special moment in history. He was born in Florence, a city that, then, was halfway between Aristotelian ideas and academics inspired by the classics, especially in Plato.
Known familiarly as Filipepi, Sandro Botticelli has long been recognized for his works, considered as some of the greatest creations of this artistic period so fruitful and brilliant.
The story of his life is a game of “chiaroscuro” in which the prestige and talent recognized in his younger age were profoundly clouded in his last period. His relationship with another of the key figures of the time, Giacomo Savonarola, seems to have cost him dearly.
The works of Botticelli are, still today, reason for controversy in their interpretation. The most classical theories advocate the purely religious interpretation of his paintings. However, some currents have proposed an interpretation associated with the numerous references to symbols of ancient initiatory mysteries in his paintings.
Mysteries that would have been recovered by the Renaissance Neoplatonists. A knowledge that the religious struggles of the reform, the counter-reform and its witch hunt would have ended by burying.
Alessandro de Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, known as Sandro Botticelli, was born in Florence, a city he would leave only once in his life. Florence is an integral part of the life and work of this magnificent artist. The city of Florence saw him born, grow and die … was an accomplice and refuge of his extraordinary talent, his lovers, his secrets and his most mystical yearnings.
From his earlier life we have hardly any data, but we know that Sandro Botticelli appears in the world of canvases at the age of 14 years. Thanks to the friendship of his family with the Vespucci, Sandro became an outstanding disciple of the great Filippo Lippi. Lippi exerted an enormous influence on the entire work of Botticelli, who managed to adopt the detailed artistic technique of his teacher.
The delicate expressions of their faces and their decorative approach led him, quickly, to rise as one of the most sought after painters in Florence.
At age 15, he opens his own workshop in which he will develop an exquisite taste for Platonism. He did it through the representation of very realistic figures in a sad and melancholic style. Neoplatonism appealed to different themes of Christian inspiration with numerous pagan elements.
Many of his biographers and some historians have seen an unrequited love for the model of his work The Birth of Venus. However, this hypothesis could not be proven. It is known that Sandro Botticelli maintained a homosexual relationship with a young man and that, at some point in his life, he was accused of doing so.
Beyond the theories that relate to their love relationships, we know that Botticelli managed to be an outstanding artist, with some fame, money and great prestige. His early attachment to the Medici family provided Botticelli with a good social position.
Sandro Botticelli: adulthood
Botticelli’s fame only grew. In Florence he was recognized as a highly talented artist and the Medici sought him out to represent his most important members on canvas.
His relation with the Medici supposed for Botticelli a reputation of extraordinary proportions. As a result, he was summoned by the papacy of Rome to paint some sections of the Sistine Chapel. His work for this commission included three large pieces and several portraits.
His later career would be marked by the influence of one of the most famous men of the Florentine Renaissance period, Girolamo Savonarola, a very charismatic Dominican friar. The sermons of the friar against the moral corruption of the Renaissance clergy gave rise to new ideological convictions that captured many, among them, Sandro Botticelli.
They were convulsive moments in Florence and the religious and moral preaching of Savonarola acquired heretical tints in the eyes of the Vatican, which would end up burning him at the stake, accused of a heretic. His relationship with the Dominican and his admiration for his speech were, for Botticelli, numerous problems after the fall and tragic end of Savonarola.
Even so, Botticelli still had to live a major change within the Renaissance movement. The techniques and new styles advanced very fast and Botticelli began to fall behind.
The new painters and emerging geniuses, such as Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo, had newer techniques that left aside the previous period. On May 17, 1510, Sandro Botticelli died in the same city where he was born.
The work of Sandro Botticelli is extensive and widely known. He enjoyed a great popularity in life, although, after his death, his work was relegated to the background before the magnificence of the great painters who emerged in the last stage of the Renaissance.
It would not be until the 19th century when Botticelli’s work would recover and, as a consequence, he would be granted the unparalleled value it displays.
There are many works of Sandro Botticelli: from the 102 drawings that served as illustrations to The Divine Comedy by Dante, to The Adoration of the Magi. Without forgetting works such as: Venus and Mars, Palas and the Centaur, The Temptation of Christ, The Virgin of the Rosebush or The Annunciation.
Sandro Botticelli and the metamorphosis of the soul
But if we have to highlight two works of all his production, without any doubt, we will choose The Birth of Venus and The Spring. These two works, together with Palas and the Centaur, were commissioned by the Medici and represent the metamorphosis of the soul according to the Platonic philosophy developed by the Ficino academy.
Numerous interpretations have wanted to see in works like The Spring or The Birth of Venus an episode written by Ovidio that speaks of the transmutation of the soul through the Graces and other elements. A return to the primordial spiritual situation of the human being who, guided by the souls from beyond the grave, leads him to reach transcendence.
The work of Sandro Botticelli is one of the most interesting that the Renaissance has given us, that period of splendor in the arts that drastically changed the meaning of our civilization.