Three names stand out conspicuously from the ranks of Florentine painters in the latter half of the fifteenth century. But progress being one of the essential characteristics of the art at this period, as in all others, it is not surprising that the order of their fame coincides (inversely) pretty nearly with that of their date. First, Antonio Pollaiuolo; second, Sandro Botticelli; and lastly, Leonardo da Vinci.

It is important to note that Pollaiuolo was first apprenticed to a goldsmith, and attained such proficiency in that craft that he was employed by Lorenzo Ghiberti in the carving of the gates of the Baptistry, and subsequently set up a workshop for himself. In competition with Finiguerra he "executed various stories," says Vasari, "wherein he fully equalled his competitor in careful execution, while he surpassed him in beauty of design. The guild of merchants, being convinced

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of his ability, resolved to employ him to execute certain stories in silver for the altar of San Giovanni, and he performed them so excellently that they were acknowledged to be the best of all those previously executed by various masters.... In other churches also in Florence and Rome, and other parts of Italy, his miraculous enamels are to be seen."

Now whether or not Antonio, like others, continued to exercise this craft, the account given by Vasari, as follows, of his learning to paint is extremely significant as showing how painting was regarded in relation to the kindred arts so widely practised in Florence:—"Eventually, considering that this craft did not secure a long life to the work of its masters, Antonio, desiring for his labours a more enduring memory, resolved to devote himself to it no longer; and his brother Piero being a painter, he joined himself to him for the purpose of learning the modes of proceeding in painting. He then found this to be an art so different from that of the goldsmith that he wished he had never addressed himself to it. But being impelled by shame rather than any advantage to be obtained, he acquired a knowledge of the processes used in painting in the course of a few months, and became an excellent master."

As early as 1460 he had painted the three large canvases of Hercules for Lorenzo de'Medici, now no longer existing, but probably reflected in the two small panels of the same subject in the Uffizi. These alone are enough to mark him as one of the greatest artists of his time. The magnificent David, at Berlin, soon followed, and the little Daphne and Apollo in our National Gallery. These were all accomplished unaided, but a little later he worked in concert with his brother Piero, to whom we are told to attribute parts of the painting of the large S. Sebastian in the National Gallery, painted in 1475 for Antonio Pucci, from whose descendant it was purchased. "For the chapel of the Pucci in the church of San Sebastian," says Vasari, "Antonio painted the altar-piece—a remarkable and wonderfully executed work with numerous horses, many nude figures, and singularly beautiful foreshortenings. Also the portrait of S. Sebastian taken from life, that is to say, from Gino di Ludovico Capponi. This picture has been more extolled than any by Antonio. He has evidently copied nature to the utmost of his power, as we see more especially in one of the archers, who, bending towards the ground, and resting his bow against his breast, is employing all his force to prepare it for action; the veins are swelling, the muscles strained, and the man holds his breath as he applies all his strength to the effort. All the other figures in the diversity of their attitudes clearly prove the artist's ability and the labour he has bestowed on the work."

It is in his superb rendering of the figure, especially in the nude, that Antonio Pollaiuolo marks a decisive step in the progress of painting, and is entitled to be regarded as "the first modern artist to master expression of the human form, its spirit, and its action." But for him we should miss much of the strength and vigour that distinguishes the real from the false Botticelli.

"In the same time with the illustrious Lorenzo de Medici, the elder," Vasari writes, "which was truly an age of gold for men of talent, there flourished a certain Alessandro, called after our custom Sandro, and further named di Botticello, for a reason which we shall presently see. His father, Mariano Filipepi, a Florentine citizen, brought him up with care; but although the boy readily acquired whatever he had a mind to learn,

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yet he was always discontented, nor would he take any pleasure in reading, writing, or accounts; so that his father turned him over in despair to a friend of his called Botticello, who was a goldsmith.

"There was at that time a close connection and almost constant intercourse between the goldsmiths and the painters, wherefore Sandro, who had remarkable talent and was strongly disposed to the arts of design, became enamoured of painting and resolved to devote himself entirely to that vocation. He acknowledged his purpose forthwith to his father, who accordingly took him to Fra Filippo. Devoting himself entirely to the vocation he had chosen, Sandro so closely followed the directions and imitated the manner of his master, that Filippo conceived a great love for him, and instructed him so effectually that Sandro rapidly attained a degree in art that none could have predicted for him."

The influence of the Giottesque tradition which was thus handed on to the youthful Botticelli by Filippo Lippi is traceable in the beautiful little Adoration of the Magi—the oblong, not the tondo—in the National Gallery (No. 592). This was formerly attributed to Filippino Lippi, but is now universally recognised as one of Sandro's very earliest productions, when still under the immediate influence of Filippo, and prior to the Fortitude, painted before 1470, which is now in the Uffizi, and is the first picture mentioned by Vasari, thus—"While still a youth he painted the figure of Fortitude among those pictures of the virtues which Antonio and Pietro Pollaiuolo were executing in the Mercatanzia or Tribunal of Commerce in Florence. In Santo Spirito (Vasari continues, naming a picture which is probably The Virgin Enthroned, now at Berlin (No. 106)), he painted a picture for the Bardi family; this work he executed with great diligence, and finished it very successfully, depicting the olive and palm trees with extraordinary care."

The influence of Pollaiuolo is more evident in his two next productions, the two small panels of Holofernes and the Portrait of a Man with a Medal, in the Uffizi, and again in the S. Sebastian now at Berlin, which was painted in 1473.

About 1476 the second Adoration of the Magi in the National Gallery was painted, and a year or two later the famous and more splendid picture of the same subject which is in the Uffizi. With this he established his reputation, showing himself unmistakably as an artist of profound feeling and noble character besides being a skilful painter. It was commissioned for the church of Santa Maria Novella. "In the face of the oldest of the kings," says Vasari, "there is the most lively expression of tenderness as he kisses the foot of the Saviour, and of satisfaction at the attainment of the purpose for which he had undertaken his long journey. This figure is the portrait of Cosimo de'Medici, the most faithful and animated likeness of all now known of him. The second of the kings is the portrait of Giuliano de' Medici, father of Pope Clement VII., and he is presenting his gift with an expression of the most devout sincerity. The third, who is likewise kneeling, seems to be offering thanksgiving as well as adoration; this is the likeness of Giovanni, the son of Cosimo.

"The beauty which Sandro has imparted to these heads cannot be adequately described; all the figures are in different attitudes, some seen full face, others in profile, some almost entirely turned away, others bent down; and to all the artist has given an appropriate expression, whether old or young, showing numerous peculiarities, which prove the mastery he possessed over his art. He has even distinguished the followers of each king, so that one can see which belong to one and which to another. It is indeed a most wonderful work; the composition, the colouring, and the design are so beautiful that every artist to-day is amazed at it, and at the time it acquired so great a fame for Sandro that Pope Sixtus IV. appointed him superintendent of the painting of the chapel he had built in Rome."

The visit to Rome was in 1481, and meantime Botticelli had produced the wayward Primavera, and the more stern and harsh S. Augustine in the church of Ognissanti. Of his frescoes in the Pope's chapel nearly all have survived, including Moses slaying the Egyptian, The Temptation, and The Destruction of Korah's Company, besides such of the heads of the Popes as were not painted by Domenico Ghirlandaio and his other assistants in the work.

Returning to Florence in 1482, he was for twenty years without a rival in the city—after the departure of Leonardo to Milan—and he appears to have been subjected to no new influences, but steadily to have developed the immense forces within him. Before 1492 may be dated the two examples in the National Gallery, the Portrait of a Youth and the fascinating Mars and Venus, which was probably intended as a decoration for some large piece of furniture. The beautiful and extraordinarily life-like frescoes in the Louvre (the only recognised works of the master in that Gallery) from the Villa Lemmi, representing Giovanna Tornabuoni with Venus and the Graces, and Lorenzo Tornabuoni with the Liberal Arts, are assigned to 1486. Of this period are also the more familiar Birth of Venus; The Tondo of the Pomegranate and the Annunciation in the Uffizi, and the San Marco altar-piece, the Coronation of the Virgin in the Florence Academy.

To the influence of Savonarola, however great or little that may have been, is attributed the seriousness of his latest work. Professor Muther characterises Botticelli as "the Jeremiah of the Renaissance," but whether or not this is a rhetorical overstatement, the "tendency to impassioned and feverish action, so evident in the famous Calumny of Apelles, reflects, no doubt, the agitation of his spiritual stress."[1]

This is the latest of Sandro's works which are in public galleries, and there is every probability that the last years of his life were not very productive. "This master is said to have had an extraordinary love for those whom he knew to be zealous students in art," Vasari tells us, "and is affirmed to have gained considerable sums of money, but being a bad manager and very careless, all came to nothing. Finally, having become old, unfit for work, and helpless, he was obliged to go on crutches, being unable to stand upright, and so died, after long illness and decrepitude, in his seventy-eighth year. He was buried at Florence, in the church of Ognissanti in the year 1510."

The large and beautiful Assumption of the Virgin, with the circles of saints and angels, in the National Gallery, which has only of late years been taken out of the catalogue of Botticelli's works, is now said to have been executed by his early pupil Francesco Botticini (c. 1446-1497) in 1470 or thereabouts. "In the church of San Pietro," Vasari writes of Botticelli, "he executed a picture for Matteo Palmieri, with a very large number of figures. The subject is the Assumption of our Lady, and the zones or circles of heaven are

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there painted in their order. The patriarchs, prophets, apostles, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, doctors, virgins, and the hierarchies; all of which was executed by Sandro according to the design furnished to him by Matteo, who was a very learned and able man. The whole work was conducted and finished with the most wonderful skill and care; at the foot were the portraits of Matteo and his wife kneeling. But although this picture is exceedingly beautiful, and ought to have put envy to shame, yet there were certain malevolent and censorious persons who, not being able to fix any other blame upon it, declared that Matteo and Sandro had fallen into grievous heresy." It is apparent that the picture has suffered intentional injury, and it is known that in consequence of this supposed heresy the altar which it adorned was interdicted and the picture covered up.

In view of all the circumstances it is certain that it was designed by Botticelli, and very possibly executed under his immediate supervision and with some assistance from him. If we do not see the real Botticelli in it, we see his influence and his power far more clearly than in the numerous tondi of Madonna and Child that have been assigned to him in less critical ages than our own. For the real Botticelli was something very real indeed, and though it was easy enough to imitate his mannerisms, neither the style nor the spirit of his work were ever within reach of his closest followers.