Somehow when I was looking for museum information online, I stumbled upon the fact that there was an exhibit of Botticelli's artwork here in Santiago. Or at least that's what it seemed to say. So I found some more information, checked maps, and figured out that this exhibit was very close to our apart-hotel.
I went over there yesterday, to the Centro Cultural La Moneda, the Cultural Center on Moneda Street. Turns out to be an underground complex with a variety of free exhibits, hand-on art activities for children, a few shops and cafés, and very little information in English.
I'm not sure if this piece is on loan from the Corsini Palace, of what. The poster says "On our tenth anniversary, a gift for Chile." I think the sponsoring company has paid all fees for this painting to be shown here, but I'm really not too sure. (And I can't read the little pamphlet that was handed out, it's all in Spanish.)
And the Botticelli exhibit was only one painting. A perfectly lovely Madonna With Child - the official title of this painting is "Madonna With Child and Six Angels," although the English-speaking world tends to refer to this particular tondo (painting on a round canvas or panel) as "The Corsini Madonna" to differentiate it from Botticelli's several other "Madonna With Child and Six Angels." Or numerous other Madonna and child paintings. Because it is part of the collection at the Galleria di Palazzo Corsini, the art gallery at the Corsini Palace in Florence, Italy.
As with most other Botticelli paintings, it was luminous. Absolutely glowed from within. There's something about the way the Italian Renaissance painters handled oil paint in thin glazes, building up color, that seems to trap light and even life between the layers. Few other periods of art have as realistic skin created out of paint.
It was interesting listening in on other conversations - I only understood scraps, but one man was explaining to his listeners, in Italian, why Botticelli was such an important artist. Another, in Spanish, explained to his children that the artists used natural pigments and that Mary's dress was painted of ground lapis lazuli.
I didn't hear anyone talking about Mary herself. This is the part I find to be most interesting, though that might be the romantic in me.
The "model" is Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci. Simonetta was married to Marco Vespucci, a cousin of Amerigo Vespucci (for whom the Americas are named). Simonetta and her husband moved to Florence in 1470 or so, and the city was enraptured by her beauty. This was during the reign of Lorenzo Medici, "Lorenzo the Magnificent," and his brother Giuliano.
Giuliano fell in love with Simonetta, and there were rumors that they became lovers. Whether this is true or not is unknown. Also, no one really knows if Botticelli was in love with Simonetta as well. In 1475, Botticelli painted a banner featuring Simonetta as Minerva, goddess of wisdom, which Giuliano carried during a joust in the main piazza of Florence. It was rumored that Giuliano only participated in the joust in order to win the banner.
Simonetta, sadly, died of consumption in 1476 at age 22. She lives on, however, in a number of paintings by Botticelli, some commissioned by Giuliano Medici, and painted long after Simonetta's death. The most well-known are "Primavera" and "The Birth of Venus," both completed roughly six and nine years after Simonetta died.
This particular Madonna and Child was painted circa 1500; Botticelli had painted Simonetta so often, even this madonna looks like his long-lost model. Or love.
It's a sad story, and there are all kinds of variations on the theme. Her fragile beauty seems to have haunted Botticelli throughout his life, as he immortalized her in his canvases, always youthful, always graceful, the epitome of beauty. With, of course, some of the most gorgeous hair ever painted.
Simonetta is the portrait that all other Renaissance paintings want to be, the woman loved by a city, the muse and inspiration of a major artist. She will never grow old, and will never be forgotten.
Even though her life was tragically short, she lives on through the art of Botticelli. He is famous because of her, she is famous because of him.
They're united forever as they never were in life.
(Yes, there are some technical difficulties with this painting. Check out the baby's neck. Awkward. I would have asked a student to rework this. I'd have repainted it if this were my painting. Botticelli was okay with it. Even the masters weren't always perfect.)