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Botticelli's Secret: The Lost Drawings and the Rediscovery of the Renaissance

W W Norton & Company

9781324004011

Some five hundred years ago, Sandro Botticelli, a painter of humble origin, created works of unearthly beauty. A star of Florence’s art world, he was commissioned by a member of the city’s powerful Medici family to execute a near-impossible project: to illustrate all one hundred cantos of The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, the ultimate visual homage to that “divine” poet.

This sparked a gripping encounter between poet and artist, between the religious and the secular, between the earthly and the evanescent, recorded in exquisite drawings by Botticelli that now enchant audiences worldwide. Yet after a lifetime of creating masterpieces including Primavera and The Birth of Venus, Botticelli declined into poverty and obscurity. His Dante project remained unfinished. Then the drawings vanished for over four hundred years. The once famous Botticelli himself was forgotten.

The nineteenth-century rediscovery of Botticelli’s Dante drawings brought scholars and art lovers to their knees: this work embodied everything the Renaissance had come to mean. From Botticelli’s metaphorical rise from the dead in Victorian England to the emergence of eagle-eyed connoisseurs like Bernard Berenson and Herbert Horne in the early twentieth century, and even the rescue of precious art during World War II and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the posthumous story of Botticelli’s Dante drawings is, if anything, even more dramatic than their creation.

A combination of artistic detective story and rich intellectual history, Botticelli’s Secret shows not only how the Renaissance came to life, but also how Botticelli’s art helped bring it about―and, most important, why we need the Renaissance and all that it stands for today.




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