Botticelli’s paintings are among the top artworks to see at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Here you can admire the “Birth of Venus” and the “Primavera”. Iconic masterpieces that are guaranteed to leave you speechless.
But the Uffizi hosts many more artworks by Botticelli. 18 in total. His subjects vary from the mythological to the religious, and show how his style and ideas developed through his life.
Uffizi Gallery – Botticelli paintings
The iconic Botticelli artworks: “Birth of Venus” and “Spring”
The grand Botticelli Hall (10-14) is the most visited room in the Uffizi. And it’s easy to see why. Here you find the most famous paintings by Botticelli: the “Birth of Venus”, where the goddess is shown naked on a shell, being born from the sea foam, just as in the myth. The beauty of the Venus has become an eternal symbol and there is plenty of allegorical meaning to be found in it.
The other much-celebrated painting by Botticelli is the “Primavera”, or “Allegory of Spring“. It depicts a complex allegory where flowers and fruits frame the scene of Gods and Goddesses interacting in graceful and mysterious ways. These works are the perfect representation of Humanist taste and ideals.
“Adoration of the Magi” by Botticelli – portraying the Medici family
In the same room you find one of Botticelli’s early works, the “Adoration of the Magi” (around 1475). This is the painting that propelled the Florentine master into the Medici’s circle. As it was in use at the time, Botticelli depicts his patrons and commissioners – members of the Medici family – in his painting. Here they pose as the Wise Men, come to pay homage to the newborn Christ. On the right hand side you can spot an self-portrait of Botticelli himself, looking out at the viewer.
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“Portrait of a man with the medal of Cosimo the Elder”
This other work by Botticelli has a clear link with the Medici family. This famous portrait depicts an unknown young man proudly holding a medal, showing the head of Cosimo de’ Medici, (with a Latin inscription pater patriae ‘Father of the Fatherland’, to indicate the political power that Cosimo had in the Florence Republic.). The man is dressed in the fashion of a learned humanist. It’s painted in a realistic style, and includes some interesting details.
Mythological scenes and allegories in Botticelli paintings, Uffizi Gallery
“Fortitude”, an early work (1470), is a beautiful representation of one of the Virtues, originally commissioned for the court at Palazzo Vecchio. The young woman wears armour and holds a sceptre. She represents strength and perseverance in following the higher Good.
The moving “Pallas and the Centaur” (1482-83) shows man’s struggles between rationality and impulse. Here the beautiful Goddess Athena (Pallas is the another name for the goddess of wisdom) symbolises wisdom which keeps the centaur at bay. The centaur represents man’s lowest instincts.
In “Return of Judith to Bethulia” (1472) the biblical heroine Judith has just killed her enemy, the general Holofernes. She’s still carrying the sword, and looks almost downcast in her triumph. The story continues in the “Discovery of the body of Holofernes” which is rich in pathos and beautifully rendered details.
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Religious paintings of Botticelli, Uffizi Gallery
The Uffizi Gallery also hosts various religious works by Botticelli, including “Madonna in Glory with Seraphim”, the graceful “Madonna of the Pomegranate”, the sumptuous “Madonna of the Magnificat”. The beautiful fresco of the “Annunciation” sets the usual scene of the Madonna and the archangel Gabriel in a Renaissance palace with a loggia and garden.
In his latest phase the ageing artist focused solely on sacred themes, and his style became more sombre and dramatic. You can see this change in the “Cestello Annunciation” (1489) “Pala di San Barnaba” (1487) and “Pala di San Marco”(1490) at the Uffizi Gallery.
Botticelli was getting old and was losing much of his prestige, because of younger, more ‘modern’ emerging artists. And, according to Vasari, Botticelli became a devoted follower of Savonarola, and was influenced by his sermons. He moved towards a pessimist mysticism.
With the closing of the 15th century, Christian preacher Girolamo Savonarola became a key figure in Florentine society. After the overthrow of the Medici, Savonarola was at the head of Florence Republic from 1494 to 1498. Savonarola was preaching against the moral corruption of the church and society. He organised the public burning of personal ornaments, games and some work of arts and books that were considered immoral in the infamous “Burning of the Vanities”.
As a matter of fact, Botticelli’s style change considerably in the latest years of his life. The paintings become smaller, his figures slender and tortured, showing exaggerated gestures and expressions.
Botticelli “Calumny of Apelles” – see how his style changed in late years
The late work “Calumny of Apelles” (1494) is a perfect example of how his art and ideas changed towards the end of his life. This painting shows an event that, according to writer Lucian, happened to the Greek painter Apelles (who was alive in the 4th century BC). He was wrongly accused of having plotted against the king. The king in this scene sits on the thrones and listens to “Ignorance” and “Suspicion” that are whispering in his donkey-like ears.
A range of figures symbolising vices – “Rancore “, “Calumny” (Slander) “Conspiracy” and “Fraud” – are struggling and fighting against each other. On the left, you see “Truth” , a beautiful naked woman who is pointing her finger upwards to Heaven, where one can find the only real justice. All in all you can recognise some of Botticelli’s creatures, but they have lost most of their graceful appearance.
It’s a small painting, much smaller than his more famous and joyful masterpieces, and it can easily go unnoticed when you visit the Uffizi Gallery. But it’s interesting to spend a few minutes with it because it shows the path that the artist went through towards the end of his life and career.