Botticelli paintings
Sandro Botticelli (Italian, 1444 or 1445–1510), “Three Miracles of Zenobius,” ca. 1500, tempera on panel, 67.3 x 150.5 cm (26 1/2 x 59 1/4 in.). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum will be the sole venue in the United States to reunite Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli’s The Story of Lucretia from the Gardner Museum collection with the painter’s Story of Virginia, on loan from Italy for the first time. This presentation explores Botticelli’s revolutionary narrative paintings and brings them into dialogue with contemporary responses.

Botticelli drawings
Sandro Botticelli, “Virgin and Child with Saint Joseph and a Magus” (fragment of “The Adoration of the Magi”), ca. 1500, brush and brown egg tempera, heightened with white, over charcoal or chalk on prepared linen, 30.9 x 23.4 cm. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

From the museum:

Painted around 1500, eight monumental works — including important loans from museums in Europe and the U.S. — demonstrate Botticelli’s extraordinary talent as a master storyteller. He reinvented ancient Roman and early Christian heroines and heroes as role models, transforming their stories of lust, betrayal, and violence into parables for a new era of political and religious turmoil.

Botticelli paintings
Sandro Botticelli, “The Story of Virginia,” ca. 1500, tempera and gold on panel, 83.3 x 164.9 cm (32 13/16 x 64 15/16 in.) Accademia Carrara, Bergamo

Considered one of the most renowned artists of the Renaissance, Botticelli (about 1445–1510) was sought after by popes, princes, and prelates for paintings to decorate Italian churches. His Medici-era madonnas elevated Botticelli to a household name in Gilded Age Boston. Yet the painter achieved iconic status through his secular paintings — like the Primavera — for the Renaissance home. All of the works in the Gardner’s exhibition originally filled the palaces of Florence, adorning patrician bedrooms with sophisticated modern spins on ancient tales.

Botticelli paintings
Sandro Botticelli, “Four Scenes from the Early Life of Zenobius,” ca. 1500, tempera on panel, 66.7 x 149.2 cm (26 1/4 x 58 3/4 in.) National Gallery, London. National Gallery, London / Art Resource, NY

“Botticelli: Heroines and Heroes” is the first-ever exhibition dedicated to Botticelli’s spalliera, a new genre of domestic painting. Deriving from the Italian word spalla or shoulder, the name indicated the height at which Renaissance viewers experienced these captivating images. As the leading painter of Florence, Botticelli looked to the city’s legendary past for heroines and heroes whose lives he reimagined to deliver political, patriotic, and moralizing messages into the residences of the Florentine elite.

Raphael Room at the Gardner
Thomas E. Marr & Son (active Boston, 1870s–1954), Raphael Room, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, 1903. Gelatin silver print, 30.4 x 35.7 cm (11 15/16 x 14 1/16 in.) Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

Unprecedented loans for this exhibition include The Story of Virginia from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, never before seen in the United States. Thanks to the exceptional generosity of the National Gallery, London, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Gardner exhibition also reunites three of four panels from another spalliera depicting the story of the early Christian saint, Zenobius, celebrated in Florence as the city’s first native bishop. Botticelli’s unique, unfinished Adoration of the Magi, on loan from the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, offers a rare insight into his working methods while two large-scale drawings of the same composition from the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, illuminate how he reworked figure groups for multiple compositions of diverse functions.

“Botticelli: Heroines and Heroes” is on view at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (Boston, MA) through May 19, 2019.

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