A new exhibition of Sandro Botticelli's paintings, including some never seen in the U.S., will give museumgoers a glimpse into the artist's own search for sanctity.
The show, "Botticelli and the Search for the Divine," opened April 15 at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. It showcases valuable works from the Italian Renaissance master's catalog, including a life-size "Venus" painting being displayed in America for the first time.
"We're giving the American public a chance to take a trip to Renaissance Florence," said Frederick Ilchman, who curated the exhibit for the museum.
The exhibition aims to tell how Botticelli developed as an artist. For lovers of Italian Renaissance art, a proper Botticelli show in America is long overdue.
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Botticelli seems to be having a renaissance of his own hundreds of years later after being all but forgotten and surpassed by younger geniuses like Leonardo da Vinci, said David Nolta, a professor of art history at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
"Botticelli has not always enjoyed the fame and popularity he does today," Nolta said.
The exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts features 24 paintings on loan from Italian museums, including the famous Uffizi Gallery in Florence. There also will be a Botticelli painting from the MFA's permanent collection, and two on loan from the Harvard and Isabella Stewart Gardner Museums.
Visitors will notice how Botticelli practiced dual specialties: religious paintings, a specialty for the majority of Renaissance artists; and classical mythology, including several goddess figures covered by little more than their flowing or braided hair.
"He set the standard for beauty in the 15th century, and it is one that we — in the 21st century — still respond to," Ilchman said.
Perhaps the most celebrated piece in the exhibition is "Venus," a reworking of Botticelli's most famous painting, "Birth of Venus." Completed around 1490, the wood panel painting depicts the goddess of love wearing a sheer covering and knee-length auburn hair. "Venus" is on loan from the Galleria Sabauda in Turin, Italy.
On loan from the Uffizi is a painting titled "Minerva and the Centaur." In the artist's exploration of rational thought verses animal instinct, the painting shows a goddess overcoming a half-man, half-horse beast.
Botticelli's work takes a turn, however, when a new ruler comes to power in the late 15th century. Friar Girolamo Savonarola was a devout preacher who banned secular arts and culture because it was thought to be sinful in nature. After Savonarola, Botticelli painted only religious impressions and dropped his specialty of sensual goddesses and mythological creatures.
"The mood can be severe and even mournful," Ilchman said of Botticelli's later works. "It's a response to a change in politics and religious that is borne out in the artwork itself."
"Botticelli and the Search for the Divine" runs through July 9.