Sandro Botticelli is the best-known artist who created pieces for the Medici. The Medici was a family that had amassed a great amount of wealth through banking. This incredible wealth allowed them to gain power and commission art and architecture. They commissioned so much art that anyone who is a generous patron today is often called a Medici.
Botticelli’s style was based on Filippo Lippi, Pollaiolo and Verocchio but he personalized their styles greatly. He is considered one of the great masters of line and believed in beauty as an ideal.
At the time Botticelli was painting, other artists were searching for a way to express humanity and the natural world through scientific knowledge especially in the areas of perspective and anatomy. Botticelli seems to have completely ignored this movement. Botticelli’s style is also characterized by a sense of melancholy. (The above picture is a self-portrait done by Botticelli, it is a detail from Adoration of the Magi.)
Sandro Botticelli who was really named Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi was born in 1445 to a tanner named Mariano di Vanno Filipepi. In 1458 at the age of 13 he was sent to school but did not like doing studies and quickly became bored. He told his father he would like to pursue a career in painting and his father quickly apprenticed him in 1465 to Filippo Lippi where Botticelli stayed until 1467. Shortly after in 1470 he painted the work Fortitude for theTribunale della Mercanzia or Court of Merchants where economic crimes were judged. Fortitude was painted as part of a larger commission ordered by Piero del Pollaiolo. The commission was to paint a series of the virtues.
In 1474 Botticelli’s painting St. Sebastian was hung with ceremony on January 20th, the feast day of the saint. It was hung on a pillar in the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore. This same year Botticelli left to go to Pisa.
From 1474 to 1481 Botticelli painted other works including St. Augustine. In June of 1841 Pope Sixtus IV asked him and other painters to come to Rome to decorate the Sistine Chapel walls. Botticelli accepted the invitation and stayed in Rome until 1482. The same year Botticelli’s father died and Botticelli painted probably his most famous work, Birth of Venus, as a commission for the Medici’s.
Portrait of a Young Man was painted in 1482 or 1483, and is considered an exception in Italian portraiture. Most portraits of the time were only supposed to show the person physical characteristics. But Botticelli took this a step further; the Portrait of a Young Man shows the feelings and psychological state of the man. Notice how his head is turned slightly and where the man is looking. This position creates the sense that the man is reflecting on something that is somewhat sad.
Very little is known about Botticelli’s life outside of his commissions for paintings, but it is known that in 1493 his brother Giovanni died. It is assumed by most that Botticelli’s surname came from his brother because Giovanni was called il Botticello which means little cask. But on this fact, no one is certain.
In 1496, Botticelli began working on decorating Lorenzo di Pier Franco dei Medici’s villa. His works became even more sober and focused mainly on religious works. He had fewer decorations in his paintings and concentrated more on the figures in the paintings. Many attribute this change to the political unrest of the 1490’s and the overall belief that the last days were near.
Botticelli died on May 7th, 1510 and was buried in the cemetery of the Church of Ognissant. His style of linear elements and anti-classical spirit are believed to have influenced Michelangelo and mannerism.