The Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli is probably best known for Birth of Venus
, two commissions for the young Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici. The same delicate, rhythmic line and fanciful imagination can be found in another project for this patron: an unfinished set of drawings from the 1480s that illustrate The Divine Comedy
, Dante's chronicle of his vividly imagined travels through the Inferno and Purgatory to Paradise.
For those familiar with the jewel-like colors of Botticelli's paintings, it may come as a shock that many of the 92 drawings that survive are very faint preliminary sketches. (They were made with a metal point on sheep parchment, sometimes touched up with pen and ink. A few have been colored in.) But just as the poet Virgil serves as the 35-year-old epic hero's indispensable guide, the astute running commentary in this book helps modern readers perceive how Botticelli subtly evokes the hero's feelings. "Botticelli's Dante is guided above all by his eyes," writes Hein-Thomas Schulze Altcappenberg, chief curator of Berlin's Kupferstichkabinett. "[They] are literally opened in proportion to his enlightenment, until his vision ultimately dissolves in an image of pure beauty, liberated from constraints of time and space."
By showing multiple views of the characters in a single drawing, Botticelli portrays Dante's successive reactions to what he sees and Virgil's responses to his charge's state of mind. And by giving every group of doomed souls a distinctive gesture or expression, he follows the poet's lead in illuminating both the individual and the universal. Published to accompany the exhibition of the same title that has been shown in Berlin and Rome and continues at the Royal Academy of Arts in London through June 2001, this book represents a triumph of accessible scholarship, intelligent design, and deeply rewarding content. --Cathy Curtis
From Publishers Weekly
A more artful set of interpretations can be found in Sandro Botticelli: The Drawings for Dante's Divine Comedy, an uncompleted set of 91 drawings commissioned a little over 500 years ago by Lorenzo de' Medici. Some, even with the superb, nearly full-page reproductions here, are a little hard to make out, so fragile is their vellum and faded their sepia inks. But others, in full-color or still in outline only, and scattered among the Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso, are breathtaking in their imaginative illuminations of Dante's lines. Essays by a slew of international scholars and commentary on each drawing, placing it within the poem and within the period's norms for illustration, round things out. Mar.
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