I have often admired the serene beauty of Botticelli’s females, the clear delicate skin and and linear form. His women are exquisite and I knew it would be a challenge to emulate his fine style, but inspiration and determination lead me to have a go.
This muse is inspired by Botticelli’s “Primavera”, or Allegory of Spring as the painting is also known. The young Simonetta Vespucci was Botticelli’s model and muse, and I have loosely based my muse on this historic Renaissance beauty.
Botticelli’s muse Simonetta Vespucci
Simonetta Cattaneo de Vespucci was Botticelli’s muse and Italy’s 15th century Florentine “super model”. Kate Moss or Kim Kardashian could not match the beauty or ageless influence Simonetta Vespucci has had on shaping the Renaissance.
She was born in a village near Genoa, some believe Porto Venere (Venus Harbour, where it is said that the Goddess Venus stepped from the sea). She was married at the age of 15 and died at 22, her short but sweet life inspired one of the greatest artists of Renaissance and the wealthiest men in the world.
She arrived in Florence, the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, as a fifteen-year old bride, her husband Marco Vespucci was a noble man and had close ties to the Medici’s. In a few short years Simonetta Cattaneo de Vespucci would catapult to fame as the most beautiful woman in Italy, beloved of an entire city.
In 1469, the city of Florence was entering its golden age of power and influence. Young Lorenzo de Medici and his brother Giuliano had just taken control of the Medici house upon the death of their father Piero. Although the Medici’s did not openly rule in the city, everyone knew to whom the government of Florence answered.
Lorenzo de Medici enjoyed power and banking and used his great wealth to surround himself with the finest painters, sculptors, poets, philosophers, and intellectuals of his day, among them, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli.
These most prominent Renaissance men got together and created a canon of beauty. They decided the rules of what makes the perfect woman. They believed that such a woman didn’t exist outside art, poetry or their wildest imaginations, until Simonetta arrived in Florence.
The prolific artist, Sandro Botticelli, whose masterpieces include The Birth of Venus and Primavera, studied art alongside Leonardo da Vinci in the studio of Andrea del Verrocchio during the 1460s. Botticelli was on his way to becoming a well-known artist, but had not yet met his muse, that is, until Marco Vespucci and his pretty new wife, Simonetta moved next door.
Botticelli fell hopelessly in love with Simonetta, who often posed for him in the nude. Certainly she was Botticelli’s Venus; her long, swan-like neck, straight aristocratic nose, flowing golden hair and curvy figure, were the model on which many of his masterpieces were based. In La Bella Simonetta, Botticelli had met his muse. He painted Simonetta over and over again, even years after her death.
Botticelli wasn’t the only artist to paint Simonetta, she sat for Piero de Cosimo and others. She became the Renaissance equivalent of Marilyn Monroe and though she was married, besotted noblemen lavished her with gifts and parties, poets and musicians wrote about her and for her; Artists competed for her time as a model. She enchanted all of Florence, perhaps all of Italy, with her loveliness and vibrancy.
Simonetta was linked to both of the Medici brothers; although there is no evidence that she gave herself to anyone. She sat at the left-hand of power, wealth and culture in Renaissance Florence, and her ethereal beauty had such an effect on the makers of art in Florence that she became the standard by which beauty was measured, thereby influencing the works of Michelangelo and da Vinci, and countless thousands of other artists to this day.
The fame and lavish attention was not to last; Simonetta Vespucci, beloved of all Florence, contracted a lung disease and died of consumption when she was only twenty-two years old. Her premature death only seemed to add to the legend of her beauty. Through Botticelli the years passed but Simonetta never aged, she continued to appear as young and beautiful in his masterpieces years after her death.
The people of Florence reeled in shock at the passing of their famous “Queen of Beauty.” Thousands of mourners traveled from all over Italy to walk in her funeral procession. Women wept over the romantic and sad misfortune of her brief life. Men mourned the passing of La Bella Simonetta, the flower of Florence, but no one suffered as greatly from the loss of Simonetta as Botticelli. He was working on The Birth of Venus when Simonetta fell ill and perhaps he felt responsible somehow for her illness, because and couldn’t bear to return to work on the painting for a long time. He would not finish the masterpiece for nine more years.
Although Botticelli lived and continued to create major works of art for thirty-four years after the death of Simonetta, it is said that the young women in his paintings all bear a striking resemblance to his beloved muse. Whether he painted pagan goddesses or the mother of Jesus, Botticelli’s women are recognisable portraits of Simonetta. She is revealed by the high forehead, pale eyes, dimpled chin, golden hair worn in decorative braids and her long graceful neck. His devotion to Simonetta is evident in dozens of paintings of the Virgin Mary and the Magdalen, always painted with sadness in their eyes, as if to reflect the artist’s own broken heart.
Botticelli never married. On his deathbed, he asked to be buried at Simonetta’s feet in the Church of Ognissanti, the chapel of the Vespucci family in Florence. His wish was granted, and he was laid to rest at Simonetta’s feet. Buried with the woman whose face and figure he immortalised as the epitome of Renaissance beauty, Sandro Botticelli was finally united in death with his tragic muse.
I started making this muse inspired by Botticelli’s paintings, not knowing of the tragic story behind his beautiful muse, Simonetta Vespucci. It has given me insight and appreciation of both artist and muse and there is no doubt I will be exploring other Botticelli paintings for new ideas.
Below are some images of the making of Primavera.
I gave her bare feet which meant re-shaping the foot and hand stitching the toes individually. The final painting, dressing and styling gave Primavera her character.