How Does The Work Of Botticelli Reflect The Values Of Early Renaissance Humanism?

During the Renaissance “rebirth” period, artists rejected medieval artworks and went back to painting mostly classical biblical artworks that prove to be one of the most detailed periods of time. Humanism began in the late XIV century, but it seemed to mature and flourish in the XV century. Humanists were painters, architects, philosophers, poets, and travelers, who wanted to revive the cultural and literal legacy, as well as moral philosophy of classical antiquity. Their values included individualism and human consciousness that rooted in the interest of classical literature, science, and philosophy of ancient Green and Roman culture. Humanists believed that the Greek and Roman classics contained lessons, which one needed learning in order to lead a moral and effective life, and also provided the best models for a powerful life. It was in Florence, Italy, during the Medici Era that the humanists thrived. 

It was the humanists, who included the ancient heritage in the educational system, started the familiarity with ancient literature, sculpture, philosophy (those that were best preserved) in well-educated circles. Poets and artists tried to emulate the ancient authors and revive the ancient art in general. However, as often happens in history, especially the history of art, the revival of some long-standing principles and forms leads to the creation of something entirely new.

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Typical of the Renaissance time was a combination of classical philosophy with the Christian mysticism and Eastern magic in the outlook of Marsilio Ficino, who believed that philosophy and religion hove their origins from the sacred mysteries, storing the divine truth for a long time. According to Ficino, the reality is a descending ladder of perfection, leading from God and the angels to the soul, form and matter.

Alesssandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, also known as Sandro Botticelli, was one of the great Renaissance painters who reflected the values of early Renaissance Humanism throughout his mythological, biblical and portrait paintings. The two points have played a crucial role in the ideological formation of the artist – his close affinity with the humanist circle of Lorenzo de Medici “the Magnificent”, who was the de facto ruler of Florence. and his passion for religious sermons of Dominican monk Savonarola. The refined enjoyment of life and art in the court of the Medici, and the harsh austerity of Savonarola – these were the two poles, between which Botticelli ran his creative way. His understanding of antiquity (as well as his understanding of religion) is very individual. It is not based on the archaeological interest in classical models and is not blindly following representations of Neoplatonic symbolism, but on the deeply poetic attitude that permeates all the works of the master. In the early works of Botticelli dominated images, imbued with the gentle lyricism, transparent and almost serene. Botticelli’s understanding of the Universe was quite close to Ficino’s, as he believed that the soul was the highest natural wonder and tried to implement this idea in his works of art.

A typical filling of Sandro’s works is the idea of Humanitas, which means the plexus of human spiritual properties, in most cases, it is embodied in the form of Venus or, sometimes, in Pallas-Minerva. In other words, it is an idea of impeccable beauty that carries the intellectual and spiritual potential of the human, the external beauty is a reflection of inner beauty and grain of universal harmony, a microcosm in the macrocosm.

Botticelli’s famous painting The Birth of Venus was made around the mid 1480’s and was hung in the country villa of the Medici in Castello. It is thought that this painting, along with the Primavera was done as counterparts for Lorenzo the Magnificent. Although it is not concrete where exactly this painting is hung, or which Medici family member it was commissioned most likely used it used for the decoration of a country villa. This mythological scene depicts Venus, standing in the center of the painting on a seashell, floating in the water; in consonance with classical mythology “she sprang from the foaming waters of the sea”. Looking at her figure, she seems to resemble Roman sculptures of Venus, enacting as a marble statue, as though her body is hard and it shimmers from the glisten of marble or stone. Because of her position, she is often compared to the classical sculpture Venus Pudica. Botticelli has gone over the figures with black lines, which cause the contours to stand out sharply from the surface of the picture and highlight the clearness and coldness of her figure. Botticelli admired works of poets and was inspired by two main humanist poets named Landino Dante and Homer. Homer, the classical poet, served Botticelli as inspiration to this painting as he had written a hymn to Venus. 

On the left-hand side of the painting, there are two figures, Zephyrus and Aura. These two mythological figures are trying to blow Venus onto the ground where the Goddess of the Seasons, Horae, is waiting to receive her and holding out a robe to cover Venus’s body. The flowers on the robe itself and on Horae’s robes are an indication that she is in fact the Goddess of Spring.  

Primavera by Botticelli is one of the first European painting works of purely secular character. It is a painting, in which the humanistic culture of the Renaissance, with its passion for antiquity for the first time found a direct, though a very peculiar reflection. It reflects three inseparable directions, in which the art and philosophy of the Florentine humanists developed: antique, Christian and courtly. From antiquity here are the characters and motives of myths. From the right Zephyr, the warm west wind, steals Chloride, Greek nymph of fields and flowers, which immediately transforms into an image of Flora – Roman Goddess, showering the ground with flowers. On the left side, there are the Three Graces that embody chastity, love and pleasure. Mercury, dispersing the clouds, standing in the shade of the orange trees, sends the viewer's imagination to the myth of Paris and his choice of the most beautiful of goddesses, which he gave an apple as to the winner. This goddess, Aphrodite, or, as it was called by the Romans, Venus, gently steps on the carpet of grass and flowers in the center of the picture. Above her head there is a Cupid with a bow, healing to one of the Graces.

Of course, Botticelli has brought his vision of the world into the picture. The gods are not the replicates of ancient sculptures, but are transformed by special artistic canons. It may be noted that the figures are slightly elongated, and women have a little bit domed stomachs, which meets the standards of beauty of the time. In the center Botticelli painted Venus, the goddess of love and the owner of the garden. The central character is not chosen by chance, because spring is the time of love and Venus represents the blossoming of nature and human relations. Sandro Botticelli's Primavera is beautiful and pure, it inspires awe and admiration. The Cupid aims his arrows of love in three Graces, the girlfriends of beautiful Venus, who dance a rondo. Three Graces embody tenderness and innocence, but seem to be simple virgins, beautiful in their helplessness. 

This painting depicts an image of a young man, immersed in the depth of his inner world. The experiences of the young man are secret, and the artist’s interpretation of the portrayed image corresponds to the spiritual expression. The intensity of the soul hidden movements emerges on this dreamy face in the focused look and soft lines of the mouth asymmetry.

During the Renaissance, active life was clearly separated from the contemplative life. The first is devoted to acts, aimed at the common good, and the second is closely linked with the inner world of the individual, with the development of intellectual abilities of the individual. Up until the middle of the XV century, the preference was given to a portrait type of a person, who gives all the power of the mind and will to the civil or military service. Even the images of prominent thinkers and poets were imposed by the stamp of active, heroic ideal. But gradually, under the absolute influence of the ideas of Neo-Platonism, the center of gravity in the interpretation of the portrait moved to the contemplative life. The concept of confrontation of different principles in mind and striving for it up to the source of absolute beauty, introduces new faces in the portrait image.

It does not have the inner strength, the restless spirituality, which usually distinguish the faces of Botticelli. In its turn, the linear beginning, typical for this artist, is not acting here as bright as in “Mars and Venus”, and lives in the combination with the finest plastic modeling. 

Botticelli depicts the vision of the world, where it appears without borders, where there is no space organization with the perspective, where the heavenly is mixed with earthly. In the squalid hut Christ was born. Before him in awe and amazement bowed Mary, Joseph and the pilgrims, who came to the place of the miracle. Angels with olive branches in their hands are dancing in the sky, glorifying the mystical birth of the child and, going down to the ground, worship him. The artist interprets this sacred scene as a religious mystery, presenting it in the “primitive” language. He deliberately simplifies the shapes and lines, complements the intense and colorful paint with the abundance of gold. Sandro has resorted to symbolism scale ratios, increasing the figure of Mary in comparison with the rest of the characters, and the symbolism of the details, such as the branches of peace, the inscriptions on the ribbons, wreaths. Angels in the sky circle in an ecstatic dance. The whirlwind of their robes is portrayed with a piercingly clear line. The figures clearly speak against the background of the blue of the sky and gold.

This painting was written in 1500 and “just at a time when many predicted the end of the world”. It’s unlike the traditional interpretation of the famous nativity scene. Although the main things the artist left unchanged: the baby in the manger, mother and father are together. Even animals have remained in places. But there are many angels – on the earth, showing the shepherds on the Holy Family, in the foreground cloth, kissing and hugging to celebrate all the same sages, and, of course, angels, who dance in a circle in the sky. Botticelli did not forget about the devil: the bottom in both corners has little demons, which hide in the crevices of the earth, and observe all the proceedings.

Particular attention is causing the three angels, sitting on the roof. They also have olive in their hands, but they are dressed in different colors. And here's the really good reason. Green, Red, White symbolize grace, truth and justice. The painting is stuffed with symbolism. It is an amazing work of art with elements of mysticism.

Conclusion

Botticelli was a direct witness of the feudal reaction’s coming first symptoms. He lived in Florence, a city that for centuries stood at the head of the economic, political and cultural life of Italy; in a city with centuries-old Republican tradition, which is rightly considered the forge of the Italian Renaissance culture. Perhaps that is why the crisis of the Renaissance was found especially here and was so violent and tragic. It was the Medici family, who held positions in the reactionary oppositions in politics and advocated humanism, strongly patronizing writers, scientists, and artists. Botticelli had inextricably linked his fate with Florence and was painfully tossed between the humanism of the Medici circle and religious and moral fervor of Savonarola. And when, in the last years of the XV century, Botticelli solved the dispute, choosing the religion, he fell silent as an artist. His works are full of humanism as a tribute to ancient philosophy and art, and as a triumph of the person’s beauty of soul and body.

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