The painter behind 'Birth of Venus' invented a new kind of art

Breaking new ground, Botticelli's iconic Renaissance masterpieces used Christian themes and classic myths to celebrate his patrons, the Medici.

Perhaps his most famous work, Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” was painted circa 1485, at the height of his powers. The goddess of love stands modestly atop a giant shell, born by the winds as an attendant brings Venus a garment.
Photograph by Album

Christened Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, Sandro Botticelli began life around 1445 as the youngest son of a tanner in Florence, was a small Italian city state. Devastated a century earlier by the Black Death, the city recovered and grew in prominence and prosperity. Powerful merchants and bankers invested their fortunes in painting, sculpture, and architecture, and Florence became the epicenter of a new movement that most eloquently expressed its values—humanism, wisdom, and truth—through the arts. The work of Sandro Botticelli embodied the values of the early Renaissance, marrying organic beauty with geometric precision.

Sandro had an older brother, who was allegedly called “barrel” because of his stocky build, and it is thought that this is how the young Sandro got the nickname Botticelli. The name stuck with him for the rest of his life and became synonymous with some of Florence’s greatest works of art. (See also: The Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo's masterpiece.)

The details of the artist’s early life are few. Of Botticelli’s childhood, the 16th-century historian Giorgio Vasari wrote: “Although [Botticelli] found it easy to learn whatever he wished, nevertheless he was restless ... [and, so,] weary with the vagaries of his son’s brain, in despair his father apprenticed him as a goldsmith.” This experience emerges in Botticelli’s paintings in the form of meticulous, intricate flourishes.

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