Botticelli work comes to the US for first time

For the first time, one of only two life-size nude paintings of a solitary Venus will be on display in the United States as the centerpiece of a new exhibition at the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary.

Courtesy of Galleria Sabauda, Turin, Inv. 172
Half-body detail of Botticelli’s ‘Venus.'

For the first time, one of only two life-size nude paintings of a solitary Venus will be on display in the United States as the centerpiece of a new exhibition on Sandro Botticelli, which will be mounted by the Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary from Feb. 11 to April 5.

A personal friend of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli has been hailed as one of the greatest and most-beloved artists of all time. This exhibition, titled “Botticelli and the Search for the Divine,” includes 16 paintings of religious images and mythologies from major stages of the artist’s life. 

“It’s nothing like anything that has come to the United States before,” says Aaron De Groft, director of the Muscarelle. “It’s the evolution of a genius. A lot of these pieces were famous in their own day. There’s a stunningly beautiful ‘Madonna of the Book’ with truly beautiful surfaces and brilliant colors. It’s also a very rare work because the Madonna is shown reading with the infant Christ as his hands are kind of guiding hers.” 

The exhibition follows Botticelli from his earliest influences, beginning with his apprenticeship under Fra Filippo Lippi, as well as Botticelli’s influence on Lippi’s son, Filippino Lippi. In a rare public display outside Italy, works from both of these Renaissance artists will also be showcased. Intriguing masterpieces, such as two altarpieces that were separated in time but are actually part of the same work, will also be on display. 

After the death of Botticelli’s patron, Lorenzo the Magnificent, Florence was overtaken by Girolamo Savonarola, the zealous reformist preacher. Savonarola ordered Botticelli’s paintings to be destroyed in the notorious Bonfire of the Vanities of 1497. Works from this later period in Botticelli’s career, reflecting a new Christian asceticism, will be on view. The exhibition moves to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for its only other US appearance, where it can be seen from April 15 to July 9.

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