Have you ever wondered who the famous artists of the Renaissance hung out with? Were Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci best buds? We all know that the people we spend time with influence who we are, so did the compatriots of the Renaissance artists have influence on the art? In the case of Botticelli, the answer is yes.
Botticelli lived and worked in Florence during the 15th century, at the same time that the Medici family was in power. Lorenzo de Medici was Botticelli’s main patron and was also a great promoter of humanist and neo-Platonic ideas, believing that “a new world of imagination could open freely with the new Platonism” (Gardner 468). Plato is one of those guys who you’ve probably heard of (humanities anyone?), but not everyone knows what his beliefs were. Plato’s ideas are enough to fill up a book (in fact, he wrote many), but some of Plato’s philosophies included the idea that though most people believe what they see and hear and what their senses tell them, real knowledge is much more difficult to attain. At one time, all human souls lived in a better world, but we now live in a shadow world, unable to truly know (Wikipedia).
The Medici family began a Platonic academy so that people could learn about the classics and the philosophies of Plato, and Lorenzo kept company with many philosophers of the time, including the humanist Marsilio Ficino. These were the people Botticelli spent time with and shared ideas with, and so they influenced his art (Gardner 468).
Wait, humanism again? Didn’t we just talk about this? What I remember from our study of humanism is that it was not just Botticelli whose art was changed by humanism, because, according to McKay, as the Renaissance progressed, “the subject matter in Italy became steadily more secular” (McKay 423). But Botticelli did his own thing and “disdained the major dogmas of the Florentine tradition of art and developed a highly personal style” (Thompson 251).
So what exactly was this “highly personal style”? Well, all these famous Renaissance guys drew and painted realistically, but Botticelli was particularly skilled at line and contour, which helped him create characters that were exceptionally realistic. Also, another difference is that while other paintings (such as Venus of Urbino) portrayed women as symbols of love and passion, Botticelli’s art – particularly Birth of Venus – exuded a much more ethereal, magical air. As Gardner says, The Birth of Venus seems to be “an allegory of the innocence and truth of the human soul naked to the winds of passion and about to be clothed in the robe of reason” (Gardner 469). And while other Renaissance artists simply embedded some classical mythological themes in their artwork, Botticelli wholeheartedly embraced classic mythology and used it to create direct scenes. He took the humanist and Platonic ideals that he was surrounded by and translated them into his art (Gardner 468).
When I think “Renaissance” I think Birth of Venus. Botticelli seems like the classic Renaissance artist. I think this is because his approach seems like the ultimate indication of a master philosopher and artist – not only did he believe but he translated those beliefs into his art, and he marched to the beat of his own drum. I guess Botticelli wasn’t called “the brightest star in the Florentine galaxy,” (Gardner 467) for nothing.
– “Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.” Smarthistory.org. Dr. Beth Harriss and Dr. Steven Zucker. Accessed February 23, 2011. http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/Botticelli.html
– de la Croix, Horst, Helen Gardner, and Richard G. Tansey. Art Through The Ages. 6th ed. San Diego: Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, Inc. , 1975. 467-469. Print.
– “Neoplatonism.” Wikipedia. N.p., 23 Feb 2012. Web. 1 Mar 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neoplatonism>.
– “Lorenzo de’ Medici.” Wikipedia. N.p., 29 Feb 2012. Web. 1 Mar 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lorenzo_de’_Medici>.
– McKay, John. “A History of Western Society” 4. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008. 412-418. Print
– Thompson, Bard. Humanists and Reformers: A History of the Renaissance and Reformation. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing , 1996. 251. eBook.