History of Art 260: Botticelli – The Making of a Renaissance Artist

Instructor: Professor Henrike C. Lange

This graduate seminar opens a wide historiographic panorama on Botticelli’s life and works from his time to the present day. Following the participants’ interests, we will focus with increasing intensity on the nineteenth-century making of Botticelli (Pater, Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelites), on the early modern sources (from the first anonymous notes to Vasari), and their reading in the late nineteenth century (Aby Warburg’s 1893 dissertation, Sandro Botticellis “Geburt der Venus” und “Frühling”) to the late twentieth century’s theoretical approaches to Botticelli’s intensely erotic, devastatingly beautiful, and at times likewise devastatingly violent imagery (Georges Didi-Huberman’s 1999 Ouvrir Vénus).

We will discuss themes of the body and nature, allegories, Antiquity, nudity, heroes, Madonne, Rome as commemorated in Botticelli’s Sistine Chapel frescoes, Dante as imagined in Botticelli’s illustrations for the Divine Comedy, the Medici and Savonarola as major factors in the social fabric around the artist, his graphic work, his mannerism, and the responses to Botticelli in the twentieth century (from Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Edgar Degas and René Magritte, from the spheres of advertising to Andy Warhol).

While the course aims at increasing the awareness for the different historiographic lenses one is used to look at early modern artists in general, it is in constant dialogue with specific works. Botticelli’s paintings will therefore appear in a likewise reflected sequence of different art historical approaches, from the material study of the conservator’s perspective to iconographical analysis with the appropriate biblical and ancient sources, and approaches from theory. At the end of the course, we will have developed a more complex and more complete image of Botticelli’s works on the one hand, and of the long history of writings about these works on the other hand.

The seminar will be held in English; all required readings are in English. Additional readings in Italian, German, French, and Spanish will be discussed in class according to the participants’ individual levels of reading knowledge in these languages.

  • Elective Requirement: This course fulfills an elective requirement for the DE in REMS.