Sandro Botticelli: Paintings & Facts

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Explore the life and works of the Italian master of painting Sandro Botticelli, and test your understanding of Renaissance Italian art, life, politics, religion, and culture.

Introducing Sandro

There have been times in human history when the most celebrated of heroes were not athletes, warriors or movie stars, but artists. During these times, artists were the true celebrities. They were famous and respected. And Botticelli was one of them.

Sandro Botticelli

Sandro Botticelli was one of the most influential artists in European history. He lived and worked during a time called the Italian Renaissance, roughly 1300-1600. This was an era when new wealth in Italy spurned a huge devotion to the arts, an interest in ancient Greek and Roman culture, and religious fervor. Botticelli is remembered for the graceful, serene quality of his paintings created during this time.

Early Life and Career

Sandro Botticelli was born Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi in Florence, Italy, around 1445. Around 1462, Botticelli became an apprentice to the Renaissance master Fra Filippo Lippi and learned the fine art of painting. He seems to have been well educated and learned the classic myths of Greek and Roman history and mythology, which often featured into his paintings. Botticelli became a master and opened up his own workshop by 1470.

The Florentine School

As Sandro Botticelli developed his reputation, he caught the attention of Lorenzo de'Medici. Just so you are aware how important this was, Lorenzo was commonly known by the name 'The Magnificent'.

In the Renaissance, it became the practice for the wealthy to display their power, their intellectualism, and their commitment to the people by commissioning public art. Italy developed a huge culture of artistic patronage, and at the center were the Medici, one of the richest and most powerful families in Europe. Florence was their home, and their pride.

The artists who fell under the patronage of the Medici, roughly called the Florentine School, made Florence one of the greatest centers of art in the world. They included names like Brunelleschi, Donatello, and Michelangelo.

Lorenzo the Magnificent


Adoration of the Magi

One of Botticelli's first commissions from the Medici was the 'Adoration of the Magi', painted in 1475. The painting depicts the three wise men as they honor the newborn Christ in the stable, and was originally painted for a chapel in the Florentine church Santa Maria Novella. Botticelli showed his mastery of color by creating depth, emotion, and complexity with essentially primary colors. The architecture of the tattered stable is rich in detail, and as a testament to his interest in ancient Rome, Roman ruins are visible in the background.

Most interesting about the 'Adoration of the Magi' is that at least five members of the Medici family are in the painting. The founder of Medici wealth and power, Cosimo, is the wise man kneeling at the feet of Mary worshipping Christ. His sons, Piero and Giovanni, are the other two wise men kneeling in the center. Cosimo's grandsons, Giulano and Lorenzo the Magnificent, are in the crowd. Botticelli himself is on the right side looking at the viewer. It was not uncommon for patrons to have themselves added to religious scenes. This served to both suggest that by commissioning religious work they were actively worshipping Christ, and also to make sure everyone was aware who the commissioners were.

Adoration of the Magi


Amongst Botticelli's most famous paintings is 'Primavera', completed around 1482. The painting features several graceful figures in a garden, and Botticelli again references ancient Greece and Rome in the use of mythological figures to create an allegory for the fresh growth of spring. It is remarkably detailed; art historians have identified 500 different species of plants with 190 species of recognizable flowers in the garden.

The typical interpretation of the painting is that the wind of March, Zephrus, is the winged, blue figure. The woman he is grabbing is Chloris, a nymph who became the goddess of Spring. Venus, the Roman goddess of love and fertility, stands in the middle. The three dancing figures are the Graces. The Graces are wearing jewels in the colors of the Medici family banner, and this has led to another interpretation that the flowering of Spring represented the dawning of the Medici era of power.


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