Savonarola was hanged and burned in 1498, and Botticelli paid a last tribute to his friend in the picture in this room called “The Calumny”. Under the pretence of merely illustrating a passage in Lucian, who was one of his favourite authors, Botticelli has represented the campaign against the great reformer. The hall represents Florence; the judge (with the ears of an ass) the Signoria and the Pope. Into these ears Ignorance and Suspicion are whispering. Calumny, with Envy at her side and tended by Fraud and Deception, holds a torch in one hand and with the other drags her victim, who personifies (but with no attempt at a likeness) Savonarola. Behind are the figures of Remorse, cloaked and miserable, and Truth, naked and unafraid. The statues in the niches ironically represent abstract virtues. Everything in the decoration of the palace points to enlightenment and content; and beyond is the calmest and greenest of seas.
One more picture was Botticelli to paint, and this also was to the glory of Savonarola. By good fortune it belongs to the English people and is No. 1034 in the National Gallery. It has upon it a Greek inscription in the painter’s own hand which runs in English as follows: “This picture I, Alessandro, painted at the end of the year 1500, in the troubles of Italy, in the half-time after the time during the fulfilment of the eleventh of St. John, in the second woe of the Apocalypse, in the loosing of the devil for three years and a half. Afterwards he shall be confined, and we shall see him trodden down, as in this picture.” The loosing of the devil was the three years and a half after Savonarola’s execution on May 23rd, 1498, when Florence was mad with reaction from the severity of his discipline. S. John says, “I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy”; the painter makes three, Savonarola having had two comrades with him. The picture was intended to give heart to the followers of Savonarola and bring promise of ultimate triumph.
After the death of Savonarola, Botticelli became both poor and infirm. He had saved no money and all his friends were dead—Piero de’ Medici, Lorenzo, Giuliano, Lucrezia, Simonetta, Filippino Lippi, and Savonarola. He hobbled about on crutches for a while, a pensioner of the Medici family, and dying at the age of seventy-eight was buried in Ognissanti, but without a tombstone for fear of desecration by the enemies of Savonarola’s adherents.
Such is the outline of Botticelli’s life. We will now look at such of the pictures in this room as have not been mentioned.
Entering from the Sala di Leonardo, the first picture on the right is the “Birth of Venus”. Then the very typical circular picture—a shape which has come to be intimately associated with this painter—No. 1289, “The Madonna of the Pomegranate,” one of his most beautiful works, and possibly yet another designed for Lucrezia Tornabuoni, for the curl on the forehead of the boy