On the day that I arrived, Florence was colder than London, but bathed in dazzling sunshine, as is apparent in this view looking north-westwards down the Arno from the Renaissance bridge Ponte Santa Trinita. My first stop was the Uffizi, where the gallery’s director Eike Schmidt showed us Botticelli’s mythological pictures Primavera, The Birth of Venus and Pallas and the Centaur. The last of these is a highlight of the exhibition Botticelli Reimagined.
Later, I took a brisk walk through the quarter of Santa Maria Novella, where Botticelli was born in 1444 or 1445, the son of a tanner. The artist’s proper name was rather a mouthful: Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi. He preferred to be called Sandro - the short form of his first name - plus the nickname Botticelli - ‘little barrel’ - which he shared with his eldest brother Giovanni, a prosperous merchant banker.
Botticelli perhaps made a deliberate pun on this nickname in a lost work, described by 16th century painter and architect Giorgio Vasari as ‘a Bacchus who is raising a cask with both his hands, and putting it to his mouth - a very graceful picture’. Such a joke would be in keeping with his reputation as ‘a man of very pleasant humour’. Like The Birth of Venus and Pallas and the Centaur, the lost Bacchus was painted on canvas rather than poplar panel which was more commonly used as a support for pictures. This may suggest that these lost works were intended to be moved from place to place, for occasional use as backdrops to festivities.
From the Piazza Santa Maria Novella, I walked down the long and narrow Via del Porcellana, formerly the Via Nuova, where Botticelli lived and worked from 1470 until his death. His most distinguished neighbours were the Vespucci family, whose luminaries included Amerigo (1454-1512), the navigator who gave his name to America, and Simonetta (about 1453-1476), reputedly the most beautiful woman of her day, who probably sat for Botticelli. Several ravishing, idealistic female portraits, supposedly based on her likeness, feature in the exhibition.
Finally, I arrived at the Franciscan church of Ognissanti, where in 1510 Botticelli was buried in the family vault in the right transept. His monument had disappeared by 1772, but was replaced in 1931 with a replica: a round marble slab inlaid with a golden lion holding a pair of dividers on a blue field, with a modest Latin inscription which may be translated: ‘The tomb of Mariani Filipepi & Sons 1510’. Visitors leave flowers and letters at the grave. One read: ‘I have loved you since I was a Child. I love you still’