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Sandro Botticelli

1445-1510. Florentine painter. He epitomizes in his masterpieces of painting the changes from the period of scholastic Christendom during the early Renaissance: grace no longer means a realm of God's favor superadded on beyond nature; now grace is simply a human posture of beautiful, leisurely dalliance, a concatenated quality of feminine loveliness, flowers, love apples and embroidered clothes. The whole Medici world of Lorenzo the Magnificent and Marsilio Ficino's ideal of blending pagan culture and biblical truth into one glorious, new feast of human purity and effortless radiance is captured by Botticelli's work. He painted portraits of the Medici family as wise men into his Magi Adoring the Christ Child, immortalizing his patrons as it were with a sanctified splendor. In both the famous Spring painting (c.1478) and Birth of Venus (c.1485) the figures semi-float off the ground in a weightless, nymphlike dance that has a flutter of decorative delicacy to it. Botticelli's Venus may duplicate the ancient, voluptuous Aphrodite sculptures, but his decolorized treatment and the lilting, well-outlined, suspended movement of the bodies chastens to innocence any sensuousness, with an allegorical, ritual character. That is Botticelli's significant achievement: canonizing the pagan kalokagathon ethic in the Renaissance mentality without offending Christian sensibility of the time, spiritualizing the gods and goddesses of pre-Christian mythology to cultural sweetness and light. Late in life, however, while Columbus was discovering the Americas for Spain, Botticelli was converted by Savonarola's* evangelistic crusade in Florence; his latest paintings (cf., e.g., Nativity in National Gallery of London) began to forsake the aura of wispy, nostalgic finery and introduce a more rough-hewn, zigzagged, earthy reality.

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