Sandro Botticelli, born Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, is considered one of the leading painters of the Florentine Renaissance. He developed a highly personal style characterized by elegant execution, a sense of melancholy, and a strong emphasis on line; details appear as sumptuous still lifes. Botticelli was born in Florence, the son of a tanner. His nickname was derived from Botticello (“little barrel”), either the nickname of his elder brother or the name of the goldsmith to whom Sandro was first apprenticed. Later he served an apprenticeship with the painter Fra Filippo Lippi. He worked with the painter and engraver Antonio del Pollaiuolo, from whom he gained his sense of line; he was also influenced by Andrea del Verrocchio. Botticelli had his own workshop by 1470. He spent almost all of his life working for the great families of Florence, especially the Medici family, for whom he painted portraits, most notably the Giuliano de' Medici (1475-1476, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.).
Adoration of the Magi (1476-1477, Uffizi, Florence) was painted on commission (though not for the Medicis), and contains likenesses of the Medici family as well as a likeness of himself. As part of the brilliant intellectual and artistic circle at the court of Lorenzo de' Medici, Botticelli was influenced by its Christian Neoplatonism, which tried to reconcile classical and Christian views. This synthesis may be the theme of two larger panels commissioned for Medici villas and now in the Uffizi, Primavera (1478?) and Birth of Venus (after 1482). While scholars have not yet conclusively deciphered these paintings, their slender elegant figures, which form abstract linear patterns bathed in soft golden light, may depict Venus as a symbol of both pagan and Christian love. Botticelli also painted religious subjects, especially panels of the Madonna, such as the Madonna of the Magnificat (1480s), Madonna of the Pomegranate (1480s), and Coronation of the Virgin (1490), all in the Uffizi, and Madonna and Child with Two Saints (1485, Staatliche Museen, Berlin). Other religious works include Saint Sebastian (1473-1474, Staatliche Museen) and a fresco, Saint Augustine (1480, Church of the Ognissanti, Florence).
In 1481 Botticelli was one of several artists chosen to go to Rome to decorate the walls of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. There he executed The Youth of Moses, the Punishment of the Sons of Corah, and the Temptation of Christ. In the 1490s, when the Medici were expelled from Florence and the fanatic Dominican monk Girolamo Savonarola preached austerity and reform, Botticelli experienced a religious crisis. His subsequent works, such as the Pietà (early 1490s, Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan) and especially the Mystic Nativity (1490s, National Gallery, London) and Mystic Crucifixion (1496?, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts), reflect an intense religious devotion.