‘Botticelli Reimagined’ at the V&A. 500 years of Italian beauty.

Simonetta Vespucci - Allegorical Portrait of a Lady by Sandro Botticelli, c.1445-1510. Private Collection.
Simonetta Vespucci Allegorical Portrait of a Lady by Sandro Botticelli, c.1445-1510. Private Collection.

Somehow a woman whose body is irregular and wrong has become the archetypal beauty of the Western world. We are talking about Botticelli’s Venus, whose image has been reproduced in thousand times. ‘If you look at her attentively’, says Ana Debenedetti, curator of paintings at the V&A and co-curator with Mark Evans of the exhibition ‘Botticelli Reimagined‘, opening on 5 March 2016, ‘her arms are way too long, her shoulders and breasts too high. But she’s so beautiful she has become the ideal woman’.

We should clarify you are not going to admire the Venus in the forthcoming exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum though. She’s will remain in Florence, at the Uffizi, where she belongs. ‘Every curator knows that Botticelli’s Venus and Spring (the other famous masterpiece by the Florentine painter, born in 1445) will never leave Florence. Last time Venus traveled was in the 30s, when Mussolini used the painting for a propaganda tour across Europe. They are too delicate and too big to be moved’, Ana explains.

But Venus is not the only beauty that Botticelli portrayed. The V&A owns the beautiful Portrait of Smeralda Bandinelli, which belonged to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who restored it then sold it to a Greek merchant.  The merchant later bestowed all his collection to the V&A.

‘The idea was to publish a book about the portrait, that inspired The Woman of the Window by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and all the pre-raphaelites art’, Ana continues. ‘But then things went bigger and we decided to go deeper into Botticelli’s art. The exhibition, that will bring Botticelli’s work in London after nearly 90 years, will showcase 40 paintings and 10 drawings coming from Florence, Paris, Avignon, Berlin, Birmingham, Cardiff, the United States and Mexico also’.

Botticelli’s fame is immense and he has been source of inspiration for many artists throughout the centuries. ‘In the 19th century ‘Spring’ was regarded as the perfect paintings, say Ana. ‘While in the 20th century ‘The Birth of Venus’ took aver and become more popular. Both became icons of beauty in the Western world. Botticelli’s Venus is the pin-up of the Renaissance. It’s a monumental nude that was used, in Renaissance Florence, to decorate the bedroom of a couple. The beauty of the woman was thought to lead to beautiful offspring’.

Portrait of Smeralda Bandinelli, Botticelli

Portrait of a Lady known as Smeralda-Bandinelli 1470-85 by Sandro Botticelli VA London c Victoria and Albert Museum London

And unlikely many other ‘beauties’ in the history of art, whose body would now be considered out of fashion, like the fleshy rubenesque women, Botticelli’s ones are perfectly admirable even today, when too often a kilo too much is criticised. They are simply marvelous, timeless.

The exhibition will not only focus on Botticelli’s paintings but also on his heritage in fashion and style. ‘The Dolce and Gabbana’s collection of 1993 and the Elsa Schiaparelli’s dress will also be on display, together with other paintings inspired by the Florentine artist’.

Venus after Botticelli, 2008 by Xin Yin, Guillaume Duhamel. Private collection, courtesy Duhamel Fine Art, Paris

Venus after Botticelli, 2008 by Xin Yin, Guillaume Duhamel. Private collection, courtesy Duhamel Fine Art, Paris

Sandro Botticelli, whose real name was Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, was born in Florence in 1445. He spent nearly his entire life working for the Medici family. Despite his fame during his life, he died in poverty and after his death, in 1510, his name was eclipsed by other painters for a long time, only to be rediscovered much later.

Botticelli Reimagined, sponsored by Societe Generale, at the V&A from 5 March – 3 July 2016.

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Dante Gabriel Rossettirenaissance
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