Sandro Botticelli is the famous Italian Renaissance painter, made immortal by works like the “Birth of Venus” and “Allegory of Spring”. He was born in Florence around 1445, and here he spent most of his life, as it was the flourishing cultural hub that of the time.
Here we uncover a few stories about the man and the artist, his disdain for marriage, his love for Dante Alighieri’s “Divine Comedy” right up until the last sad years of his life, when he died, forgotten by his contemporaries.
10 curious facts about Botticelli
1. ‘Botticelli’ was not his name
One of the most famous artists of all time has gone down in history not with his birth name, Alessandro Filipepi, but with a playful nickname. There are two theories on how this happened. The first claims that ‘Botticello’ was the nickname of his brother Antonio, who was as short and squat as a barrel (‘botticello’ means small barrel in Italian). The other has it that he was called Botticelli because his other brother Giovanni was a goldsmith. (Goldsmiths in Florence are called ‘battigello’.)
2. Botticelli’s (inexistent) love life
For an artist who has created immortal images of female beauty, Botticelli never had a real love story to speak of. It has been written that he was hopelessly in love with Simonetta Cattaneo, the young and fair wife of Marco Vespucci, one of his wealthy patrons who lived in the same street as the artist.
Simonetta was his muse, the woman that he allegedly portrayed in the “Birth of Venus” and many other of his paintings. We don’t know if he was really besotted with her, but we do know that he abhorred the idea of marriage, and used to joke about how he found the idea of taking a wife terrible. Some voices have claimed he was gay, but there’s no proof of this.
3. Is Botticelli’s Venus fit?
His Venus is a timeless symbol of female beauty. In the eyes of Botticelli her otherworldly grace was supposed to inspire the soul towards the divine, and bring the viewer closer to God.
But the coarse truth is that the Venus he painted in “Birth of Venus” doesn’t have a proportioned body. The bust is too short and the navel set too high. If she had to step out of the painting, she wouldn’t be able to walk or stand up.
4. Painting pain
Botticelli, the iconic painter of heavenly Renaissance beauties, also took on the job of depicting Hell, as written about written about by Dante Alighieri. He was fascinated by the author of the “Divine Comedy”, who had lived two centuries earlier.
He was given the job of illustrating a copy of the Comedy by a member of the Medici family, Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco. The drawings took many years to complete and reveal Botticelli’s extraordinary sensitivity and real knowledge of Dante’s poem.
5. Sistine Chapel in Rome
Did you know that Botticelli worked at the Sistine Chapel in Rome? He was one of the artists employed by the Pope to decorate some of the biblical scenes in the world-famous chapel. Funnily enough, they are not considered by critics to be among his best works.
6. The Vespucci family
The Vespucci, who commissioned many of Botticelli’s works, had another claim to fame aside from their association with the artist. One of the family members, Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512), became a famous explorer who gave America its name. He demonstrated that the New World discovered by Columbus was not East Asia.
7. Painting the Medici
Botticelli frequented the Medici circle, and they even commissioned some works from him. He painted some of the Medici family members in his painting “Adoration of the Magi”, with Cosimo the Elder and his sons portrayed as the Wise Kings. A self-portrait of the artist appears in the scene too. You can see this painting at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
After the Medici were banned from Florence, the religious fanatic Savonarola took power in the Florentine republic, and the atmosphere changed completely. It’s not clear if Botticelli followed the friar’s sermons and ideas, and if he burned some of his canvases in the infamous Bonfire of the Vanities in 1497. But during this period his style totally changed. In the last years of his life the artist renounced his mythological pagan subjects to paint ultra-dramatic religious themes.
9. A less-than-epic ending to his life
Botticelli died in 1510, neither rich nor revered. Vasari wrote that Botticelli died “ill and decrepit”. By this point other artists such as Leonardo and Michelangelo were thought to be more modern and his taste was considered outdated.
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.
10. Where is he buried in Florence
Botticelli is buried in the Ognissanti Church in Florence, a neighbourhood were he lived all his life. The same church hosts the tomb of his muse Simonetta Vespucci, and a great fresco by the artist, “Saint Augustine in his study” (around 1480).