Botticelli’s Illustrations

Here are some of the drawings Botticelli made to illustrate The Divine Comedy.

(Dante and Vergil see how those who sold indulgences are punished in hell.)

Printing was a new and exciting discovery in his time and Botticelli liked the idea of having his drawings engraved and printed in the new books. But, according to Vasari, he couldn’t afford the time. “He wasted a great deal of time on [these drawings], neglecting his work and thoroughly disrupting his life. He also printed many of his other drawings, but the results were inferior because the plates were badly engraved……”

(Dante, in the “dark forest” sees a panther, a lion, and a wolf.)

Vasari gives Botticelli a weak character. “Botticelli was a follower of Savonarola’s, and this was why he gave up painting and then fell into considerable distress as he had no other source of income.”

(Dante and his guide Vergil come across the chained Giants.)

Maybe he was a weak character. But as an artist he had the authority of a king: in his time there was no one above him.

Probably the lines of these drawings were made as cleanly as possible and without shading to facilitate the work of the engraver (who then botched the job). They are as masterly as the old Greek vase paintings. But their style is not that of a period but of a single man, never to be repeated. Artists are always proud of their “action” sketches—quick croquis of a figure in motion, in some familiar and suggestive posture. Here there are hundreds, drawn with incredible precision and care. And grace. That grace is the hallmark of a Botticelli. You would think it is a finery particularly inappropriate to this subject. Gustav Doré’s romantic bombast was probably more fitting. But Sandro couldn’t help it. That same etherial beauty that he gave to his famous Venus coming out of the sea and to his Virgins and angels—it wasn’t a pose or contrivement created for those paintings. It was a feature of his soul.

(The two poets see how the proud are punished in Purgatory.)


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8 Responses to Botticelli’s Illustrations

  1. iondanu says:

    You are absolutely right when sayinng that artist are always proud of their “action” sketches! This one of the most rewarding, most satisfactory parts of an artist’s work!

    Engraving? you are talking about aquaforte? I know Durer was a master of it (but I think he did his own engraving in copper work…) And, of course, that’s about 100 years later…

  2. 100swallows says:

    Danu: “Engraving” was the word my translator used in the Vasari Life of Botticelli. I don’t really know what the process was, only that Botticelli seems not to have done it himself. Look at the prints of these drawings and you will see that Vasari was right: they are really not up to the high level of the drawings. I will try to find out.

  3. wrjones says:

    What’s with all this hell stuff? Have you been a bad boy? Starting to worry?

  4. 100swallows says:

    Oh, no, Bill–at least not for myself. The most I’m expecting is a couple of years of soft labor. But I do worry for my friends. I looked but couldn’t find The Funny. Do you think they’re in Hell with the astrologers?

  5. rich says:

    I had known only a few paintings of Botticelli before, but not his drawings. True! Quite unbombastic, these delicate inferno illustrations in comparison with Doré. The first drawing here almost has some Hieronymus Bush qualities – sorry wrong spelling, it should read Bosch – so it seems to me.
    Googling some more Botticelli drawings I found a Dante inferno scene called the “Sowers of Discord”. To my big surprise I found a very prominent person depicted there, whom to name here would probably be considered political incorrect and unappropriate.

  6. 100swallows says:

    Yes, rich, actually I wasn’t very happy with the Botticelli drawings I was able to put in my post. They are not the best. To demonstrate his “delicacy” I would have used one of the drawings of Dante with Beatrice or others I remember but couldn’t find on the Net. It’s true they remind one of Bosch.
    And–oops!–I guess we’d better tip-toe right by that well-known personage among the Sowers of Discord.

  7. jesse dziedzic says:

    At least some bloggers can write. Thanks for this post.

  8. Rich says:

    “Sower of Discord”?
    Sunni versus Shia:
    Islam friends, please settle your dispute!

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