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Art Review: Botticelli Reimagined @ The V&A


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It breaks my heart a little that Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) was largely forgotten for over 300 years after his death. Having been rediscovered now, countless artists have latched on to the gentle beauty, movement and subtle symbolism in his now-iconic works to inform their own art.

Venus, after Botticelli by Guillaume Duhamel. Private collection, courtesy Duhamel Fine Art, Paris

‘Botticelli Reimagined’ at the V&A is the largest exhibition about Botticelli to be held in Britain for nearly 90 years. It explores his art and his legacy, drawing attention to the striking gap of recognition from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century. The exhibition follows the rediscovering and reimagining of the once forgotten artist, with Botticelli now generally considered as one of the greats of art history.

Botticelli was very successful in his lifetime. Regarded as one of the leading artists of the Italian Renaissance, he was one of several artists commissioned by Pope Sixtus IV to paint the walls of the Sistine Chapel. However, as his hometown of Florence faced turbulent times in the 1490s, Botticelli’s later paintings such as ‘Mystic Nativity’ became increasingly dark and apocalyptic. With the growing pessimism of his art, he fell out of favour with his contemporaries, leading to him gradually becoming forgotten.

Not all of Botticelli’s art is about death, sin, and the apocalypse though. Thankfully for anyone hoping to go to the exhibition for a fun day out, a lot of his work is actually pretty uplifting. He is now best known for the beautiful aesthetics and Classical references in his works such as ‘Birth of Venus’ and ‘Primavera’. Despite the originals of these particular paintings remaining in Italy, the V&A exhibition allows you to experience the sense of these works’ impacts by seeing the effect that they have had on some of the leading artists of the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

From Jeff Koons to Rene Magritte to Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the exhibition tracks Botticelli’s developing influence backwards through art history. Starting with the significance of his work today and progressing with a reverse chronology, the exhibition finishes with the work of the Botticelli himself at the end.

The V&A undertook a huge challenge, covering such a vast period of time with examples of multiple artistic media in the one exhibition. The close focus on Botticelli’s direct influence made the task possible and the exhibition is able to appeal to wide audiences.

Regardless of your opinion on Botticelli to begin with, the exhibition will make you reimagine him and his impact on art history. With work from the Renaissance, the Pre-Raphaelites, Impressionism, Surrealism, Pop Art (to name a few) there is likely to be a part of the exhibition to appeal to pretty much all art-lovers.

Botticelli Reimagined is at the V&A until 3rd July 2016

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