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Botticelli, Venus, and the Unrequited Love of an Artist for his Muse

Simonetta Vespucci was Sandro Botticelli’s most beloved muse, but his love wasn’t reciprocated.

To be day and night is a difficult task in the universe, to be the reason for every dawn and dusk in human life is a job that deteriorates every effort of persistence; this is how Simonetta Vespucci lived in ancient Florence, under the pressure of being a fantasy. Being the inspiration and desire of an era, Vespucci’s face was beauty turned into passion, and her presence a Genoese legend that survived through the years.

Simonetta Vespucci seems to have been born in Portovenere, a place that, in a certain way, marked her destiny, since the translation of this name can be understood as ‘Port Venus.’ With time, she would be seen as that deity. It was in 1453 that she saw the light of day for the first time in the bosom of the Cattaneo family, and from there, in a short time, she would be outlined to a grandiose and, at the same time, tragic future. It was at the age of 16 that she married Marco Vespucci, a relative of the famous explorer Amerigo Vespucci who accompanied Columbus on his first voyage, the son of a wealthy family that promised a true alliance between two powerful lineages.

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From that time on, Simonetta already showed features of dazzling attractiveness and caused the astonishment of those who came across her. Naturally, she also sparked the envy or admiration of women who had to compare their attributes with hers. All the knights of the Florentine era succumbed to her harmonious constitution, quickly considering her one of the most gorgeous women in society. Already installed in a kingdom ruled by Lorenzo de Medici, Simonetta was very close to the Italian nobility, who could not calm their fascination for her, thanks to the personal and political relations of her husband Marco.

Upon her arrival, even the Medici were smitten by her image, vying to some extent for her love, although both were rejected. Members of the court also made their attempts to conquer her, but it seems that none was ever reciprocated except her legitimate husband, who is not known how he reacted to the siege of so many followers.

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Among this entourage stands out the figure of an artist friend named Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, whom history knows as Sandro Botticelli, one of the most famous Renaissance artists. No sooner had he met this blonde girl with the serene gaze than Botticelli and a group of other painters adopted her splendor as a model for any work they would produce thereafter. Sandro, however, was perhaps the man who loved her most and had to keep silent about it.

What then was his only means of expressing his adoration for her? His paintings. From the very first moment, the representations Botticelli set out to make included innumerable references and portraits of the enigmatic young woman. Sandro Botticelli spent his afternoons limiting himself to painting her face, imbuing each brush with absolute devotion and having to keep silent about the true feelings that overwhelmed him. Moreover, this certainly suited him; given his position as an artist at the expense of the patronage and sympathy of the Medici, he most likely found it impossible to cry out his love for Vespucci and come into conflict with his benefactors and patrons.

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These tokens of affection were not the only ones that materialized in those years of utmost veneration for the most beautiful woman of Florence; the Medici brothers went out of their way to pay tribute to her divine image. Lorenzo dedicated to her words perhaps not poetic but which indeed described her greatness, and Giuliano during a joust on horseback in which he carried a banner with Simonetta’s portrait (painted by Botticelli) obtained for her the title of “Queen of Beauty,” a position she could never relinquish.

Much noise was made around this woman, but little is known about what position she took on the matter. It is practically a mystery whether she was flattered or obsessed by so many desirous glances of her person; an alleged romance with Giuliano de Medici has been raised, but nothing has been proven. Surely carrying the weight of being perceived as a goddess must not have been easy; going out on the streets and to social events without going unnoticed or having to watch her every move must have been endless torture, and that makes her acceptance of any offer, including Sandro’s hopeful gaze, all the more unlikely.

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Although throughout the Renaissance period it has been possible to analyze several paintings that seem to have her as a model, and it has also been speculated that she may have posed for Sandro himself, this would be impossible. Simonetta Vespucci passed at only 23 years old. She was a dazzling passage of beauty through this world and has given the impression of having been in it only to fulfill a task: to inspire.

After her departure, Botticelli fell into a deep depression, and for the remaining 13 years of his life, he decided even more strongly to capture that gentle face and that kind heart in many of his creations. Vespucci never reciprocated on earth so much love professed more than in the fantasy of his paintings; many female bodies that he captured in his work bear an extraordinary resemblance to that sigh-stealing maiden.

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Simonetta Vespucci was not born in a port of old Genoa, she was born in an oyster, she was born among the trees with her sisters during the seasons; she left her earthly state to live until the end of time in the superhuman abode of art. Botticelli took it upon himself to immortalize her by painting her as the goddess Venus emerging from the sea in total splendor and power, as well as other grandiose beings of the Renaissance.

Such was Botticelli’s fascination for that blond hair and light eyes that he left as his last wish that his remains be placed at Simonetta’s feet. A request that was granted and thanks to which, to this day, they rest next to each other, although they had never been able to find a closeness in life that would truly unite them.

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Story originally published in Spanish in Cultura Colectiva

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