Thursday, May 17, 2012

Everything I Know I Learned from Botticelli

This week, May 17th, is the 502nd anniversary of the death of painter Sandro Botticelli.

I can only imagine what it was like to walk the narrow streets of Florence during the late 15th and early 14th century. The cradle of the Renaissance and home turf to such immortal artists as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Sandro Botticelli, Florence was a place passionate about beauty. In fact its passion for beauty in art, in clothing, in personal adornment led the extremist monk Savonarola to declare that the church was being threatened. He called for the destruction of many of those fine things in his Bonfire of the Vanities. It makes me shudder.

I fell in love with Renaissance art and with Botticelli's work when I took an art history class in college. I was not an art history major, and frankly didn't know a lot about art, but it fulfilled a requirement. I'm not sure what I was expecting but suddenly I was spending hours a week among the most beautiful works of art in history. Botticelli's BIRTH OF VENUS, and my favorite VENUS AND MARS simply took my breath away. By the time the class was over I had an A, a deeper appreciation for art, and a burning desire to visit Florence.

It took me nearly thirty years, but I did just that. By then my tastes had changed and become maybe more mature, maybe just more masculine--I'm not sure what. This time I had a burning desire to see Michelangelo's DAVID. And there I found my own passion. I was so blown away by the story I saw in that face that I had to write about him. The resulting picture book, STONE GIANT, will be out next year.

But to my surprise, I also found Botticelli again in this story. You see, when the DAVID was completed, everyone who saw it saw immediately that it was a masterpiece and that it would be the piece that would come to define Florence. But where do you put a masterpiece? The city officials could not agree. So, as politicians do, they formed a committee. But being Florence, it was not a committee of politicians, or even of the rich and powerful citizens of the time. It was a committee of lovers of beauty. There were musicians, sculptors, architects, embroiderers, and painters--lots of painters. Among them was Sandro Botticelli.

Botticelli and the other artists chose where DAVID would stand. They understood the power of beauty and of this beautiful symbol of Florence itself.

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