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Florence 1445–1510 

The Florentine master Sandro Botticelli is, after Leonardo (1452–1519), the first name that occurs to many people in Italian painting and his work has an elegance and fantasy that seems immune to the vagaries of taste. Botticelli trained under Filippo Lippi (1406–1469) and adopted his linear and courtly style, enriching it by contact with Verrocchio (1435–1488). It was via the latter that he developed a more analytical vision, an interest in anatomy, and an attention to gesture that revealed states of mind.

In the 1470s he formed a relationship with the dominant Medici family for whom he painted two of his most famous works, the Primavera and the Birth of Venus both in the Uffizi. The Primavera, an allegory of love and fertility, helped make Botticelli the most fashionable Italian master in the period of the Aesthetic movement in the late nineteenth century, especially in the diaphanous elegance of his mythological maidens which inspired female fashion. The Birth of Venus is quite different in its breezy robustness and the incarnate Venus not just a symbol of desire but the triumph of womanhood, a point made with greater physicality in the Mars and Venus in the National Gallery, London, where Mars' exhaustion and Venus' satisfaction after a bout of intimacy are portrayed without inhibitions  

In the early 1480s Botticelli went to Rome to help decorate the Sistine chapel. Contact with antiquity led to a denser and grander style enlivened by numerous portraits, a genre which he successfully exploited elsewhere, notably in his Uffizi Portrait of Cosimo de Medici the Elder, which has an almost romantic immediacy. After returning to Florence, Botticelli reached the height of his fame, enjoying popular success with the production of Madonnas, often in the circular tondo format, later used by Michelangelo (1475–1564) and Raphael (1483–1520). In his last decade he became influenced by the Christian reform movement of the fanatical preacher Savanarola. Certainly, Botticelli's late paintings, like the St Zenobius series, have an obsessive intensity which often seems barely in control. This late style had a shelf life but its angst seems to have appealed to the early Florentine mannerist Rosso Fiorentino (1495–1540), as we see if Botticelli's Munich Lamentation is compared with Rosso's Louvre Pietà.


Top Auction Results for Sandro Botticelli

The Rockefeller Madonna: Madonna and Child with Young Saint John the Baptist
Sold for $10,442,500
New York, Christie’s, 30 January 2013, Renaissance, lot 148

The Madonna and Child, with a pomegranate, in an alcove with roses behind
Sold for £3,816,000 ($7,497,053)
London, Christie’s, 7 December 2006, Important Old Master Pictures – Evening Sale, lot 39

Profile portrait of a woman
Sold for $4,744,000 
New York, Sotheby’s, 25 January 2007, Important Old Master Paintings, lot 41


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