The Uffizi III: Botticelli
A painter apart—Sandro Filipepi—Artists’ names—Piero de’ Medici—The “Adoration of the Magi”—The “Judith” pictures—Lucrezia Tornabuoni, Lorenzo and Giuliano’s mother—The Tournaments—The “Birth of Venus” and the “Primavera”—Simonetta—A new star—Sacred pictures—Savonarola and “The Calumny”—The National Gallery—Botticelli’s old age and death.
We come next to the Sala di Botticelli, and such is the position held by this painter in the affection of visitors to Florence, and such the wealth of works from his hand that the Uffizi possesses, that I feel that a single chapter may well be devoted to his genius, more particularly as many of his pictures were so closely associated with Piero de’ Medici and Lorenzo de’ Medici. We see Botticelli here at his most varied. The Accademia also is very rich in his work, having above all the “Primavera,” and in this chapter I shall glance at the Accademia pictures too, returning to them when we reach that gallery in due course. Among the great Florentine masters Botticelli stands apart by reason not only of the sensitive wistful delicacy of his work, but for the profound interest of his personality. He is not essentially more beautiful than his friend Filippino Lippi or—occasionally—than Fra Lippo Lippi his master; but he is always deeper. One feels that he too felt the emotion that his characters display; he did not merely paint, he thought and suffered. Hence his work is dramatic. Again Botticelli had far wider sympathies than most of his contemporaries. He was a friend of the Medici, a neo-Platonist, a student of theology with the poet Palmieri, an illustrator of Dante, and a devoted follower of Savonarola. Of the part that women played in his life we know nothing: in fact we know less of him intimately than of almost any of the great painters; but this we may guess, that he was never a happy man. His work falls naturally into divisions corresponding to his early devotion to Piero de’ Medici and his wife Lucrezia Tornabuoni, in whose house for a while he lived; to his interest in their sons Lorenzo and Giuliano; and finally to his belief in Savonarola. Sublime he never is; comforting he never is; but he is everything else. One can never forget in his presence the tragedy that attends the too earnest seeker after beauty: not “all is vanity” does Botticelli say, but “all is transitory”.
Botticelli, as we now call him, was the son of Mariano Filipepi and was born in Florence in 1447. According to one account he was called Sandro di Botticelli because he was apprenticed to a goldsmith of that name; according to another his brother Antonio, a goldsmith, was known as Botticello (which means a little barrel), and Sandro being with him was called Sandro di Botticello. Whatever the cause, the fact remains that the name of Filipepi is rarely used.