Botticelli’s 92 Surviving Illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy (1481)

Every true Renais­sance man need­ed a wealthy patron, and many Ital­ian artist-inven­tor-schol­ar-poets found theirs in Loren­zo de’Medici, scion of a Flo­ren­tine dynasty and him­self a schol­ar and poet. Loren­zo either spon­sored direct­ly or helped secure com­mis­sions for such 15th cen­tu­ry art stars as Michelan­ge­lo Buonaroti and Leonar­do da Vin­ci.

Among Lorenzo’s many artist friends was a painter who most­ly dis­ap­peared from his­to­ry until the late nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, when the redis­cov­ery of his Pri­mav­era and Birth of Venus made him one of the most pop­u­lar of Renais­sance artists. I’m refer­ring of course, to San­dro Bot­ti­cel­li, por­traitist of Loren­zo de’Medici, his father, and grand­fa­ther and also, it turns out, illus­tra­tor of Dante Alighieri’s Divine Com­e­dy.

In 1550, the so-called “father of art his­to­ry” Gior­gio Vasari record­ed that “since Bot­ti­cel­li was a learned man, he wrote a com­men­tary on part of Dan­te’s poem, and after illus­trat­ing the Infer­no, he print­ed the work.”  The painter also made a por­trait of Dante, Vasari tells us, and drew sketch­es for engrav­ings in the first Flo­ren­tine edi­tion of The Divine Com­e­dy in 1481.

It seems, how­ev­er, that Botticelli’s inter­est in Dante went much fur­ther than even Vasari knew. Some­time late in his career—after he had already achieved local renown in Florence—Botticelli promised his patron Loren­zo an illus­trat­ed Divine Com­e­dy on sheep­skin with a sep­a­rate image for each Can­to, some­thing no artist had yet attempt­ed. 92 of those illus­tra­tions sur­vive, in var­i­ous stages of com­ple­tion, such as the two above, “Pan­der­ers, Flat­ter­ers” (top–the only draw­ing in col­or) and “Giants” (above), both from the Infer­no.

These are two of the most ful­ly real­ized of the col­lec­tion. Accord­ing to art his­to­ri­an Jonathan K. Nel­son, “Bot­ti­cel­li com­plet­ed the out­line draw­ings for near­ly all the can­tos, but only added col­ors for a few. The artist shows his ‘learn­ing’ and artis­tic skill by rep­re­sent­ing each of the three realms each in a dis­tinc­tive way.” Many of Botticelli’s draw­ings for the Pur­ga­to­rio and Par­adiso sur­vive as well, but—like the books themselves—these are increas­ing­ly less detailed (and arguably less inter­est­ing). See “Dan­te’s Con­fes­sion” from the Pur­ga­to­rio above, his “Map of Hell” at the top, “Jacob’s Lad­der” from the Par­adiso below, and the remain­ing 88 illus­tra­tions at World of Dante.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Gus­tave Doré’s Dra­mat­ic Illus­tra­tions of Dante’s Divine Com­e­dy

Alber­to Martini’s Haunt­ing Illus­tra­tions of Dante’s Divine Com­e­dy (1901–1944)

Sal­vador Dalí’s 100 Illus­tra­tions of Dante’s The Divine Com­e­dy

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (2)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • isaac buzard says:

    Alessan­dro di Mar­i­ano di Van­ni Fil­ipepi, known as San­dro Bot­ti­cel­li – May 17, 1510), was an Ital­ian painter of the Ear­ly Renais­sance. He belonged to the Flo­ren­tine School under the patron­age of Loren­zo de’ Medici, a move­ment that Gior­gio Vasari would char­ac­ter­ize less than a hun­dred years lat­er in his Vita of Bot­ti­cel­lias as a “gold­en age”. Bot­ti­cel­li’s posthu­mous rep­u­ta­tion suf­fered until the late 19th cen­tu­ry; since then his work has been seen to rep­re­sent the lin­ear grace of Ear­ly Renais­sance paint­ing.

  • Isaac Hendreson says:

    Get a life nerd.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.