Botticelli, Sandro

from The New Book of Knowledge®


The poetic paintings of the Renaissance master known as Botticelli often describe the beginnings of things. With grace and delicacy Botticelli depicted not just love but the birth of the love goddess, not simply faith but the birth of Christ, not only the beauty of nature but the blooming of spring. He turned for subject matter to history and religion, to poetry and legend.


Sandro Botticelli. 1444-1510, Italian. Madonna Magnificat. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. © SuperStock / SuperStock

Botticelli's life is somewhat like a legend. Little about it can be proved since much of what we know has come down through the ages by word of mouth. He was born in Florence and died there when he was about 65. His real name was Alessandro Filipepi, but he took the name Botticelli from his older brother, whose nickname was Botticello, meaning "little barrel." By 1460 he was probably studying with the well-known artist Fra Filippo Lippi. By the time he was 25, Botticelli had already become teacher to Lippi's son and was considered one of the best painters in Florence.

Among his many admirers was Pope Sixtus IV. In 1481 the Pope invited Botticelli to Rome to help decorate the Sistine Chapel, which had recently been completed. Botticelli's contributions to the chapel include wall paintings illustrating the life of Moses.

The Medici family, rulers of Florence, were the greatest supporters of artists and scholars in all Italy. Botticelli received encouragement from them and may even have lived in the Medici palace. The scholars there were fascinated by the poetry and philosophy of ancient Greece. As his painting the Primavera shows us, Botticelli, too, was entranced by the creators of ancient mythology. The spiritual quality of his religious paintings can also be seen in his portrayals of the gods and heroes of ancient Greece.

In his later years Botticelli was influenced by the monk Savonarola, who preached against the vanity and extravagance of the Florentines. Botticelli became very religious and painted only religious subjects.

Botticelli's paintings are famous for their dancing lines, flowing forms, and delicate details, admirably represented in the Primavera. His golden-haired Venus, goddess of love, has in her eyes the faraway look of one lost in a daydream, which appears so often in Botticelli's work.

Reviewed by Ariane Ruskin Batterberry
The Pantheon Story of Art for Young People

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