Francesco Botticini (real name Francesco di Giovanni, 1446 – 16 January 1498) was an Italian painter of the Early Renaissance. He was born in Florence, where he remained active until his death in 1498. Although there are only few documented works by Botticini, a considerable corpus has been confidently attributed to him on the basis of style including a number of altarpieces, dozens of small-scale religious panels and a few portraits.
Botticini was born in Florence in 1446. His father was Giovanni di Domenico di Piero, a naibaio, or painter of playing cards, from whom he probably received his initial artistic training. By 22 July 1459 was a salaried assistant in the workshop of Neri di Bicci. Botticini left Neri's workshop in 24 July 1460. He eventually came into contact with Andrea del Verrocchio, in whose workshop he would have met Leonardo da Vinci, Lorenzo di Credi, Domenico Ghirlandaio, and Pietro Perugino. Though Botticini's presence in Verrocchio's studio is not documented, it is often inferred on the basis of style. Botticini opened his own workshop by 1469, as reported in an arbitration document from that year. He remained close with his father, who oversaw his working contracts until 1475, when he filed for emancipation. The emancipation was granted in 1477, according to legal records.
Botticini's earliest works include the Saint Nicholas and Four Female Saints at the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, a Saint Sebastian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, and a Madonna adoring the Child at the Birmingham Museum of Art in Alabama. His earliest dated work is an altarpiece of the Madonna and Child with Saints Sebastian, Pancras, Sebastian and Peter (1471) at the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, which is painted under the strong influence of Verrocchio. The Saint Monica Enthroned with Augustinian Nuns in Santo Spirito, Florence, is usually dated also dated to this year, as his the famous Three Archangels with the Young Tobias at the Uffizi.
By 1475 Botticini had developed a more personal style, which he first expressed in his most famous work, the large Assumption of the Virgin at the National Gallery, London. Wrongly attributed Botticelli in Giorgio Vasari's Lives of the Artists, this painting has been unanimously attributed to Botticini since the early twentieth century. The attribution is corroborated by extant documents, which state how the painting was begun in 1475 and completed in 1477. The picture was commissioned by the poet Matteo Palmieri and his wife Niccolosa, presumably for their burial chapel in the now-destroyed church of San Pier Maggiore, Florence. However, some scholars believe it was instead intended for Palmieri's chapel in the Badia Fiesolana (outside Florence) because the dimensions are almost the same as Hans Memling's Last Judgment, a work initially intended for the Badia but later stolen and taken to Gdansk, Poland. Several preparatory drawings for Botticini's altarpiece survive in various collections.
The altarpiece's unusual composition and subject was surely dictated by its patrons, who appear in the lower corners of the composition. The background includes a view of Florence and the Arno valley. Some of Palmieri's properties on the hills of Fiesole, such as the farm included in his wife's dowry, are clearly discernible. The interpretation of Mary's bodily assumption into heaven, with the Virgin welcomed by rings of angels and saints, is based on the last stanza of Palmeri's poem, the Città di Vita (1465). The poem describes a controversial Lucretian idea that the soul began in heaven and descended to earth, without being crafted by God. Vasari wrote that Botticini's Assumption, like Palmieri's poem, was considered heretical and thus covered soon after its completion. This claim is likely fictitious but the donors' faces have indeed been scratched out, clearly indicating the controversies that surrounded Palmieri's ideas.
In the 1480s Botticini was consistently employed in Florence as well as nearby Empoli. For Empoli's collegiata church of Sant'Andrew he created two large tabernacles, one dedicated to Saint Sebastian and the other the Holy Sacrament. Both tabernacles are today in the adjoining museum. The larger of the two, theTabernacle of the Sacrament, was commissioned in 1486 and was largely complete by 1491, when it was installed on the church's high altar. In 1504, however, Botticini's son Raffaello was called in to add the finishing touches. Several preparatory drawings survive for the draperies of the saints in the side panels.
In 1488 Botticini painted an altarpiece of the Pietà with Four Saints for the meeting room of the Confraternity of San Domenico del Giglio at the basilica of Santa Maria Novella, Florence, now at the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris.
Throughout his career, Botticini painted numerous panels with religious subjects for the homes of Florentine citizens. He was especially popular as a painter of tondi, or circular pictures, invariably of the Virgin and the young Saint John the Baptist, patron saint of Florence, kneeling in adoration of the Christ Child. One such example, in remarkably fine condition, appeared at Sotheby's, London, in 2013. Others can be found at the Galleria Palatina, Florence; the Louvre, Paris; and the Museo Soumaya, Mexico City.
Botticini continued to work throughout the last during the last decade of his career, receiving important commissions for Florence and its surroundings. Around 1490 he painted the Madonna and Child in Glory with Saints Mary Magdalen and Bernard, formerly at theFlorentine church of the Cestello and now at the Louvre, and in 1493 he painted a Madonna and Child with Two Angels and Saints Benedict, Francis, Sylvester and Anthony Abbot for the Compagnia della Vergine in Fucecchio (west of Florence), now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In the mid-1490s he completed his most ambitious late altarpiece, an imposing Saint Jerome with Saints and Angels (the San Gerolamo Altarpiece), commissioned by wealthy Rucellai family for the convent of San Girolamo, Fiesole. This work, now at the National Gallery in London, depicts Saint Jerome in the central panel between Pope Damasus, Saint Eusebius, Saint Paula and Saint Eustochium; six angels appear in the sky above and a group of donors kneel below. The painting is unusual for including the central saint in a separate frame, creating a sort of picture-within-a-picture. As described by art critic Charles Darwent, "By giving his picture-within-a-picture of St Jerome its own gilt frame, the artist (Botticini) sets up a sequence of overlapping realities. The framed image exists as a separate artwork for us, the viewer, but also for the painted saints who seem to study it: even holy martyrs, it says, can be moved by the power of art." A drawing once considered a study for the figure of the Saint Jerome in the altarpiece is now recognized as a work by Domenico Ghirlandaio and linked to a fresco of the saint at the Bargello, Florence, painted by Ghirlandaio's brother-in-law, Bastiano Mainardi.
In 1495 Botticini painted an altarpiece of the Madonna and Child with Saint Francis, the Archangel Raphael and the Young Tobias for the Rinuccini chapel in San Pier Scheraggio, Florence. This work is now at the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh, on loan from a private collection.
In April 1968, Esquire Magazine imitated Botticini's Saint Sebastian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a cover shot of Muhammad Ali. The cover was meant to relate the persecution of Saint Sebastian to that of Muhammad Ali, when we was stripped of his heavyweight boxing title for refusing to serve in the Vietnam War. George Lois, the magazine's art director at the time, came up with the idea and pitched it to Ali. Ali initially liked the connection between the suffering of the Saint and himself, but initially refused to pose as a Christian. He eventually agreed after speaking with the leader of the Nation of Islam, Elijah Muhammad, and studying a postcard of Botticini's painting. The final product shows Ali with his hands bound behind him, arrows piercing his torso, his head tilted upwards in pain, in imitation of Botticini's saint.
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