Botticelli and the Search for the Divine is the first major exhibition of Botticelli’s work in the United States. On view at the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) in Boston until July 9, the exhibition explores the modification in Botticelli’s style as he gave up his worldly ways and committed himself to religious subject matter.
Botticelli was born in Florence in 1445 and lived his life at the cusp of the High Renaissance. From Venus to the Virgin, Botticelli’s women are renowned for their grace, elegance, and beauty. He enjoyed the patronage of the Medici family, and painted a cycle of frescos for the Sistine Chapel. However, a turning point on both his life and career took place when the Medicis were overthrown and the city was taken over by the apocalyptic religious sect of Fra Girolamo Savonarola.
Savonarola advocated a puritanical vision for society, and prophesied a great biblical flood unless people rid themselves of all secular sin and extravagance. Florence’s citizens, including Botticelli – according to some – cast paintings, books, manuscripts, and other “immoral” objects into Savonarola’s “bonfires of the vanities”. Even though at a time, his paintings of mythological, nude subjects had been in high demand, Botticelli, gripped by religious fervor, denounced such “pagan” works, and may have destroyed many of his own paintings.
Botticelli and the Search for the Divine brings, next to the works already on view at the MFA, others loaned by the Galleria degli Uffizi, other churches and museums in Italy, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and the Harvard Art Museums, for a total of 15 paintings by Botticelli. Part of the exhibition are also engravings, and woodcuts, select works from Botticelli’s contemporaries, and rare books — including writings by Savonarola and a copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy “on which – according to Vasari, Botticelli – wasted much of his time” illustrating.
Ilona Catani Scarlett