April 15–July 9, 2017

Botticelli and the Search for the Divine

Largest, most important display of Botticelli's works in the US

Perhaps more than any other painter, Sandro Botticelli (about 1445–1510) exemplifies the artistic achievement of Renaissance Florence in the 15th century. “Botticelli and the Search for the Divine,” organized by the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary and Italy’s Metamorfosi Associazione Culturale, explores the dramatic changes in the artist’s style and subject matter—from poetic depictions of classical gods and goddesses to austere sacred themes—reflecting the shifting political and religious climate of Florence during his lifetime.

At the height of his career, Botticelli was supported by the powerful Medici family, headed by Lorenzo the Magnificent. Botticelli’s instantly recognizable style, characterized by strong contours, lyrical poses, and transparent flowing drapery, was influenced both by Antique models and the courtly preferences of his patrons. Two paintings from this period on view in the exhibition, Minerva and the Centaur (1481, Uffizi, Florence) and Venus (about 1490, Galleria Sabauda, Turin)—Botticelli’s reworking of his famous Birth of Venus—are life-size and display the painter’s skill in depicting elegant figures from classical mythology.

In his later years, Botticelli became a follower of the stern Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola, who by 1494 had established a theocracy in Florence following the exile of the Medici family. Personal conduct came under harsh scrutiny, and in 1497 all manner of worldly goods—including cosmetics, mirrors, fancy clothing, musical instruments, and paintings with nudes and pagan subjects—were burned in a notorious “Bonfire of the Vanities.” Under Savonarola’s sway, Botticelli’s graceful manner gave way to a newly austere approach, and secular subject matter disappeared. Severe religious paintings dominate the artist’s later production, and such moving masterpieces as the Virgin and Child with the Young Saint John (about 1495, Galleria Palatina, Palazzo Pitti, Florence) demonstrate the striking departure from his earlier sweet style. The exhibition also includes paintings by Botticelli’s teacher Filippo Lippi, his student Filippino Lippi, and other contemporaries.

The exhibition, the largest and most important display of Botticelli's works in the United States, features 24 paintings from international lenders and the MFA’s own Virgin and Child with Saint John the Baptist (about 1500) as well as important loans from Harvard and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

  • Lois B. and Michael K. Torf Gallery (Gallery 184)


Lead support from an anonymous donor. With generous support from The Thompson Family Foundation. Additional support from the Cordover Exhibition Fund and the MFA Associates/MFA Senior Associates Exhibition Endowment Fund.

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Muscarelle Museum of Art

Organized by the Muscarelle Museum of Art at The College of William & Mary in Virginia in partnership with Associazione Culturale Metamorfosi.