At the height of his career, Botticelli (1445-1510) was one of the most successful and well patronised of the Florentine painters. His real name was Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, ‘Botticelli’ means ‘little barrel’ and was a nickname that stuck for a very long time. By the beginning of the 16th century however, tastes had changed, and his works found little favour until they were rediscovered by the pre-Raphaelites in the 19th century.
Botticelli was trained in the studio of Filippo Lippi whose style is evident in his earlier works. Many of Botticelli’s paintings are undated, but Adoration of the Magi has been dated to around 1475. By this time Botticelli had secured the patronage of the powerful Medici family, several of whose portraits alledgedly appear in the picture. Botticelli’s reputation was boosted to the extent that in 1481-82 he was commissioned to join Perugino, Rosselli and Ghirlandaio (the most celebrated painters of the day) to paint frescoes for the Sistine Chapel.
It was also around this time that Botticelli’s painted two of his most famous works; the Primavera (c1478) and the Birth of Venus (c1485), both are in the Uffizi in Florence and were probably commissioned by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici. These mythological scenes, would have appealed greatly to the Medici and their fashionable Neoplatonic philosophies.
In both pieces, a crisp line pays a very important part in the overall power of the design. Intensely decorative rendering of nature is another hallmark. Each blade of grass or petal of a flower is painted with the same extraordinary attention to detail.
Later Botticelli’s style is became more monumental and business took off as his workshop became highly successful. Some of his most profitable works were panels depicting the Madonna and Child.
During his last decade his style fell out of favour and he seems to have done little work. The masters of the High Renaissance seem to have overshadowed him and, despite his earlier achievements, he had no followers of any merit. He had one important pupil, the son of his former master, Filippino Lippi.