And here a word as to the capriciousness of the nomenclature of artists. We know some by their Christian names; some by their surnames; some by their nicknames; some by the names of their towns, and some by the names of their masters. Tommaso Bigordi, a goldsmith, was so clever in designing a pretty garland for women’s hair that he was called Ghirlandaio, the garland-maker, and his painter son Domenico is therefore known for ever as Uomenico Ghirlandaio. Paolo Doni, a painter of battle scenes, was so fond of birds that he was known as Uccello (a bird) and now has no other name; Pietro Vannucci coming from Perugia was called Perugino; Agnolo di Francesco di Migliore happened to be a tailor with a genius of a son, Andrea; that genius is therefore Andrea of the Tailor—del Sarto—for all time. And so forth.
To return to Botticelli. In 1447, when he was born, Fra Angelico was sixty; and Masaccio had been dead for some years. At the age of twelve the boy was placed with Fra Lippo Lippi, then a man of a little more than fifty, to learn painting. That Lippo was his master one may see continually, but particularly by comparison of his headdresses with almost any of Botticelli’s. Both were minutely careful in this detail. But where Lippo was beautifully obvious, Sandro was beautifully analytical: he was also, as I have said, much more interesting and dramatic.
Botticelli’s best patron was Piero de’ Medici, who took him into his house, much as his son Lorenzo was to take Michelangelo into his, and made him one of the family. For Piero, Botticelli always had affection and respect, and when he painted his “Fortitude” as one of the Pollaiuoli’s series of the Virtues for the Mercatanzia (of which several are in this gallery), he made the figure symbolize Piero’s life and character—or so it is possible, if one wishes to believe. But it should be understood that almost nothing is known about Botticelli and the origin of his pictures. At Piero’s request Botticelli painted the “Adoration of the Magi” (No. 1286) which was to hang in S. Maria Novella as an offering of gratitude for Piero’s escape from the conspiracy of Luca Pitti in 1466. Piero had but just succeeded to Cosimo when Pitti, considering him merely an invalid, struck his blow. By virtue largely of the young Lorenzo’s address the attack miscarried: hence the presence of Lorenzo in the picture, on the extreme left, with a sword. Piero himself in scarlet kneels in the middle; Giuliano, his second son, doomed to an early death by assassination, is kneeling on his right. The picture is not only a sacred painting but (like the Gozzoli fresco at the Riccardi palace) an exaltation of the Medici family. The dead Cosimo is at the Child’s feet; the dead Giovanni, Piero’s brother, stands close to the kneeling Giuliano. Among the other persons represented are collateral Medici and certain of their friends.