Enduring Ethereal Beauty

Humans have crafted artistic creations since the origins of mankind. During the prehistoric age, cavemen scratched archaic scenes of the hunt onto earthen walls; an early example of such can be seen on the cave walls at Lascaux. As mankind progressively evolved, methods of art making increased in number and in specialization. Artists flocked to the craft, and soon art became a profession, rather than a communicative necessity. In this long lineage of artists, how does a painter acquire international fame? What makes an artist an icon, or an embodiment of his times? One must consider whether a set of criteria that explains the fame of Botticelli, Michelangelo, Pollock, Koons, to name a sampling of acclaimed artists, can even be established. Take Van Gogh, contemporary viewers revere his work, but his canvases garnered appreciation only after his untimely passing. Therefore, should it be a prerequisite for such artist to achieve acclaim in his lifetime in order to be considered a true master of his time?

Considering these questions alongside a multitude of others, curators from the Gemäldegalerie organized the comprehensive exhibition, The Botticelli Renaissance. Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), a Florentine Old Master painter, has inspired generations of subsequent artists who have embraced his ethereal Venus figures and beneficent virgins. A resurgence in all things Botticelli occurred again in the 18th century upon his rediscovery by the English Pre-Raphaelite painters. His iconic female nudes have inspired modern and contemporary interpretations by artists such as: Edgar Degas, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, among countless others.

Stressing the muse-like quality of Botticelli’s women, the exhibition traces interpretations of Botticelli’s works from the contemporary present backwards to his original 15th century panels. The audio guide, which traced back in time as the viewer traversed the gallery space, greatly facilitated the viewing experience; it  clearly and constantly reinforced the thematic thread woven through the decades. Viewing a myriad of interpretations—panting, drawing, sculpture, photography, video, and costume design—the viewer grasped the scope of Botticelli’s influence of current creators. Captivating the imagination of artists and encouraging adaptions that valorized the woman body, Botticelli gained a legacy that extends much beyond the 16 or so works officially attributed to his hand. Botticelli’s own iterations of this life-size Venus bookend the exhibition; first contemporary portraits flank Venus (1490) whereas in the final room, among the 50 panels widely attributed to Botticelli, the second Venus stoically stands. The timelessness of Botticelli’s Venus resonates. Still 500 years later, her contraposto form beckons, her eyes confidently engage with each onlooker, and her windblown blond locks reinforce the illusion of ease.

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