www.whyville.net Nov 11, 1999 Weekly Issue


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Have you noticed that the streets of Myville are all named after famous scientists and artists from the Renaissance? In case these folks aren't so famous to you, you might want to follow along this series of articles, and get to know the person on whose street you're living. This week's article is about a famous Italian painter.

by Lois Lee
Times Staff

Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi was born in 1445 in Florence, Italy, at a time when the city was very wealthy and the Florentines were in love with art. His father was fifty years old, and his mother forty, very old in those days to be having children. Alessandro's health was always fragile, and the doctors then thought it was because he was born too late to parents who were too old.

Nevertheless, all of the di Filipepi sons would grow up and become quite successful, with Sandro (short for Alessandro) becoming the most famous of all.

If his name was di Mariano Filipepi, why is he called Botticelli? Art historians can't seem to agree, but here are two popular explanations:

  • His elder brother, Giovanni, was fabulously fat, and was nicknamed Botticella, which means keg or barrel. So, Sandro, the little brother, was nicknamed Botticelli, or little barrel.

  • The family's second son was a goldsmith, and Sandro often helped him shape gold by hitting it with a hammer. Someone who beats gold is called a battigello, which turned into Botticelli.
When Sandro Botticelli decided to become a painter, he first served an apprenticeship with Fra Filippo Lippi, the best Florentine painter of that time. Then he perfected his art with Andrea Verrocchio, who was also the teacher of Leonardo da Vinci. Finally, in 1470, he decided that he was good enough as a painter to go out on his own, and it was then, in an extraordinary stroke of luck, that he was hired to paint The Allegory of Fortitude. This painting announced his entrance to artistic society. Everyone in Florence came to see it, and the great Florentine families all wanted to buy his paintings.

Botticelli's career got another boost at 10 am on January 28, 1475, when the church bells of Florence's great Duomo (which is what the Florentines called their cathedral) announced a joust. This joust was hosted by the Medicis, the most powerful family in Florence, and was therefore a huge social event. Giuliano de?? Medici was this joust's hero, and his banner was painted by (guess who?)...Sandro Botticelli! This established Botticelli fame and launched his great career once and for all.

Don't get the idea, though, that it was all luck. Botticelli made some very important contributions to art and culture. His paintings combined ideas from the classical Greek and Roman artists with concepts in Christianity. This distinct style helped define the ideals of the Renaissance peroid. The Renaissance, which means rebirth, is the name given to the changes in thinking that occurred in Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries. During this period, artists and scientists "blossomed" from the more narrow-minded attitudes of the Middle Ages, and revitalized Western art, philosophy, and science.

Botticelli's most famous paintings include The Allegory of Spring, also known as La Primavera (which means spring in Italian), and The Adoration of the Magi. Several of his paintings are also on the walls of the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican in Rome.

Toward the end of his life, Botticelli's luck abandoned him when the Medici government, which had encouraged and supported him, was overthrown in 1490 by the fanatic monk Savonarola. Savonarola hated art and artists, so despite Botticelli's talent and earlier success, he ended up poor, alone, bitter, abandoned and forgotten. Nobody wanted his paintings, nobody visited, and he rarely spoke. He died in 1510 at the age of 65.

Click here to learn more about Botticelli at
The Uffizi
The Web Museum


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