Masterpieces from RenaissanceÂ Florence
Perhaps more than any other painter, Sandro Botticelli (about 1445â1510) exemplifies the artistic achievement of Renaissance Florence in the 15th century. âBotticelli and the Search for the Divine,â organized by the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary and Italyâs Metamorfosi Associazione Culturale, explores the dramatic changes in the artistâs style and subject matterâfrom poetic depictions of classical gods and goddesses to austere sacred themesâreflecting the shifting political and religious climate of Florence during hisÂ lifetime.
At the height of his career, Botticelli was supported by the powerful Medici family, headed by Lorenzo the Magnificent. Botticelliâs instantly recognizable style, characterized by strong contours, lyrical poses, and transparent flowing drapery, was influenced both by Antique models and the courtly preferences of his patrons. Two paintings from this period on view in the exhibition, Minerva and the Centaur (1481, Uffizi, Florence) and Venus (about 1490, Galleria Sabauda, Turin)âBotticelliâs reworking of his famous Birth of Venusâare life-size and display the painterâs skill in depicting elegant figures from classicalÂ mythology.
In his later years, Botticelli became a follower of the stern Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola, who by 1494 had established a theocracy in Florence following the exile of the Medici family. Personal conduct came under harsh scrutiny, and in 1497 all manner of worldly goodsâincluding cosmetics, mirrors, fancy clothing, musical instruments, and paintings with nudes and pagan subjectsâwere burned in a notorious âBonfire of the Vanities.â Under Savonarolaâs sway, Botticelliâs graceful manner gave way to a newly austere approach, and secular subject matter disappeared. Severe religious paintings dominate the artistâs later production, and such moving masterpieces as the Virgin and Child with the Young Saint John (about 1495, Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, Florence) demonstrate the striking departure from his earlier sweet style. The exhibition also includes paintings by Botticelliâs teacher Filippo Lippi, his student Filippino Lippi, and otherÂ contemporaries.
The exhibition, the largest and most important display of Botticelliâs works in the United States, features 24 paintings from international lenders and the MFAâs own Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist (about 1500) as well as important loans from Harvard and the Isabella Stewart GardnerÂ Museum.