From Lorenzo the Magnificent to Savonarola
Sandro Botticelli was a Florentine painter, born in the mid-1400s and supported by the Medici family. The Medici were well-known for not only being astute leaders of the Florentine Republic, but also patrons of the arts. Over the years, generations of Medici supported artists like Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Fra Angelico and Donatello (among others). Two of Botticelli’s most famous works, “The Birth of Venus” and “Spring,” (They contain some of the most sensuously beautiful nudes and semi-nudes painted during the Renaissance) were both commissioned by the Medici. The period from 1477–90 saw Botticelli at his most creative.
By the late 15th century, when Botticelli was in his mid-40s, a Dominican Friar called Girolamo Savonarola was gaining followers as he preached against what he considered immorality and ostentatious displays of wealth. The Medici were a favorite target of Savonarola in his sermons, since they not only were wealthy, powerful, and patrons of the arts, but Lorenzo de Medici was even an artist himself. After hearing Savonarola preach, Botticelli became one of the monk’s followers. During the years when he was listening to Savonarola, Botticelli’s paintings shifted from being simply objects of decoration to religious themes.
If not for the influence of Savonarola during a time when Botticelli could have been continuing his work as a sought-after painter in Italy, what might he have produced? We will never know.