An unpublished Botticelli, painter of his time. Alla Carrara the stories of Lucrezia and Virginia – Bergamo

Sandro Botticelli, History of Virginia 1505 ca, tempera and gold in shell on panel, 83.3 x 165.5 cm, Bergamo, Accademia Carrara, Morelli collection, 1891

Bergamo Sandro Botticelli is the painter who more than any other has succeeded in celebrating the refinement of the Medici court with two absolute masterpieces, the Primavera and the Birth of Venus [19659006]both paintings of furniture of extreme contemplative beauty, commissioned with the aim of stimulating the high and erudite conversation between family, friends and guests suggesting mythological subjects linked to ancient and modern, literary and pictorial sources.

Two works that in some ways freeze the image of Sandro Botticelli in a cliche, relegating the artist to the role of a sublime painter of a brief political and cultural season, obscuring the genius that was expressed in all the career arc also in the phase of full maturity, when the artist finds himself performing private jobs for clients in which he is able to express a lively critical spirit towards the times that destiny offers him to live.

To tell this unpublished Botticelli, son of the troubled Florentine history of the early sixteenth century, is the Carrara Academy of Bergamo where he inaugurated the exhibition " Le Storie di Botticelli . Between Boston and Bergamo " open to the public until January 28, 2019 .

The Bergamo institution, in collaboration with the prestigious Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Boston, succeeded in the task of bringing together two works by the great Renaissance master, the History of Virginia and the History of Lucrezia already divided during the nineteenth century because they were destined for two different collections, one American and one Italian.

Sandro Botticelli, History of Lucrezia c. 1505, tempera and gold in shell on panel, 83.3 x 176.8 cm, Boston, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

di Bergamo is an exhibition with a strong narrative imprinting a beautiful journey that takes the visitor on a ride along the history and the Florentine history of the fifteenth century opening up at different levels of reading, revealing characters of the myth and personality of the story, in an all-female plot.

We are in Florence . Thirty years on from that extraordinary phase of creative impulse supported by Lorenzo de Medici, the scenario changes brutally. The city is no longer the same, and Botticelli is now 60 years . The events of history follow one another fast and tumultuous: after the killing of Giuliano de 'Medici, young heir of the family pierced by a dagger during Congiura dei Pazzi the preaching of Savonarola it spreads a prophetic and apocalyptic cloud over the city until a new political and cultural change leads to the advent of the Florentine Republic.

It is in this new political context that Botticelli moves, when he puts his hand to the stories of Lucrezia and Virginia. We are around 1505. A few years before, two big names were called in the city to celebrate the renewed climate: Leonardo da Vinci in charge of carrying out the fresco of the Battle of Anghiari – which will never be brought to finish -, and Michelangelo Buonarroti summoned to sculpt the statue for one of the buttresses of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, the famous David .

At the center of the two tables the stories of virtue of the two saints, told by episodes according to the tradition of continuous narration: Virginia, murdered by her father to defend her honor, Lucrezia who chooses death in order to save herself from infamy.
The theme of the glorification of the popular revolts against the tyrants' abuses is common to both the backs, in which the critics wanted to read a clear reference to the current events that took place in Florence in the late 15th century.

But who could have commissioned the work to Botticelli? And here opens an investigation that still has many dark sides. So many hypotheses on the table. The critics would have identified the panels of Bergamo and Boston with the " many paintings, closed by ornaments of walnut for re-painting and espalier, with many figures and very beautiful and beautiful " which, as Vasari Botticelli " made around a room … in the Via de 'Servi in ​​the home of Giovanni Vespucci ". It is difficult, however, to believe that the purchasers of the strongly anti-tyrannical tables were Giovanni Vespucci and his father Guidantonio, notorious exponents of the oligarchy pro Medici.

It remains to be seen how many panels were commissioned by Botticelli. A clue, the presence of the letter E on the back of Virginia's history would suggest that this was the fifth piece of a core of at least five paintings. However, it is not known which were the other plates that completed the work and who executed them.

When he put his hand to the History of Virginia, Botticelli must have been aware of at least a couple of preparatory drawings that Leonardo had executed between 1503 and 1504 for the Battle of Anghiari . It can be seen by observing the similarities between the group of armed figures at the center of the table and the drawings depicting the horses seen from behind in the episodes of the struggle around the banner and the soldiers on the run.


Leonardo da Vinci, Studies for the Battle of Anghiari (knights with banners) 1503-1504. Windsor Castle, Royal Library

Two tables that at the same time disclose two events of private collecting: one American, linked to the purchase of the History of Lucrezia by Isabella Stewart Gardner through Bernard Berenson , and an Italian one, relating to the purchase by Giovanni Morelli of the Virginia table in 1871 at the Monte di Pietà in Rome. The American table in particular represents the only painting by Botticelli of a non-religious subject present in the United States.

The exhibition is rich in documents that add elements of detail and which go in the direction of enhancing the precious collection of Carrara. Two paintings by Botticelli, Portrait of Giuliano de 'Medici and Vir Dolorum both from the legacy of Giovanni Morelli, are flanked by loans from the Museo del Bargello di Florence and from Museo dell'Opera del Duomo di Prato .

Read also:

Two works by Botticelli, separated in the nineteenth century, meet 'Accademia Carrara

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