Here we explore some of Botticelli’s masterpieces that can be found in Florence. From the iconic paintings “Birth of Venus” and “Spring” and his early works at the Uffizi, to the portraits in Pitti Palace and a fascinating fresco in the Ognissanti Church, where the artist is buried.
For a full immersion in Botticelli’s creative universe there’s no better place to start than Florence, Italy. The Renaissance artist was born and lived here all his life (1445 around – 1510). His talent flourished in Florence, under the patronage of the Medici family, who commissioned his most famous works, including the mythological paintings that have made him immortal.
Where to see Botticelli in Florence
Uffizi Gallery – Top Botticelli paintings
Many of Botticelli’s works are to be found at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It’s an impressive round up of his work – that consists of several religious paintings, portraits and the justly famous allegorical works.
Here you find many of his early paintings. “Fortitude” (1470) is a beautiful representation of one of the seven Virtues, originally commissioned by the Florentine judges, to be hanged in the court at Palazzo Vecchio.
In “Return of Giuditta” the biblical heroine Giuditta has just killed her enemy, the general Holoferne. She’s still carrying the sword, while the maid is carrying his head, and looks almost downcast in her triumph. The story continues in the “Discovery of the body of Holoferne” which is rich in pathos and beautifully rendered details. Painted around 1472, this diptych shows Botticelli’s ability as a storyteller.
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The “Adoration of the Magi” (around 1475) propelled Botticelli into the Medici’s circle. It depicts members of the Medici family posing as the Wise Men, come to pay homage to newborn Christ. This solidly sculptural painting represents the closest to naturalism that Botticelli ever got.
Botticelli soon developed a style which was influenced by Neoplatonic philosophy that was trending in Florence at the time, brought about by the Medici’s circle of intellectuals. Beauty was considered a way to spiritually awaken the soul, and bring man closer to God.
Botticelli introduced these concepts into his paintings such as the world-famous mythological allegories “Birth of Venus” and “Allegory of Spring”. Hauntingly beautiful and complex, they have become icons and today are even more enjoyable in the refurbished rooms dedicated to the master.
In “Pallade e il Centauro” (1482-83) the beautiful Goddess (Pallas is the another name for Athena, goddess of wisdom and the arts) symbolises wisdom which keeps the centaur at bay, a personification of humankind’s lowest instincts.
The Uffizi Gallery also hosts various religious works by Botticelli, including the graceful “Madonna della melagrana” (1487). In his latest phase the ageing artist focused solely on sacred themes, and the style became more sombre and dramatic – as in the “Annunciation” (1490), the “Pala di San Barnaba” (1487) and “Pala di San Marco”(1490).
Palazzo Pitti, Palatine Gallery
The Palatine Gallery in Pitti Palace is the other museum in Florence with a significant collection of Renaissance paintings. Here you can see Botticelli’s early work “Portrait of a Young Man” (1469) that shows the attention of the artist to psychological details – the young man has a serious gaze and an air of superiority.
In “Portrait of a Young Woman” (thought to be painted in 1485) critics haven’t agreed on the identity of the woman who wears a sombre brown dress. Some have mentioned Clarice Orsini, wife of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and others Giuliano de’ Medici’s lover, Fioretta Gorini.
Here you also find the late religious work “Madonna and Child and the Young St. John the Baptist”, which is deeply sorrowful and clearly forsees the passion of Christ.
The fascinating Innocenti Museum in Florence used to be an orphanage and had dedicated centuries to the care of abandoned children. A section of the museum (on the second floor) hosts a small sacred art collection.
Among the paintings – many of which depict the Madonna as a symbol of a caring mother – there’s the tender “Madonna and Child with an Angel” by Botticelli (1465-67), whose style has clearly been influenced by his teacher Filippo Lippi.
Visit Ognissanti Church, where Botticelli is buried
Botticelli lived in this neighbourhood in Florence all his life. First right in Borgo Ognissanti, then nearby (in Via del Porcellana). He’s buried in the Ognissanti Church, a less visited sight in Florence.
Here you find a beautiful fresco depicting “Saint Augustine in his study”, commissioned by a member of the Vespucci family, who used to live close to the artist.
He’s buried here, next to his muse, Simonetta Cattaneo, the beautiful wife of Marco Vespucci, the most beautiful woman in Florence at the time, who conquered the heart of many, including the Medici brothers Lorenzo and Giuliano.
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A sad ending to a great life
Botticelli died in 1510, neither rich nor revered. Vasari famously wrote that he died “ill and decrepit”. After his death, Botticelli’s reputation was eclipsed. But his fame bounced back in the 19th century, when he was rediscovered by art critics and artists.