San Francisco curator details three previously unattributed Botticelli drawings


Preparations for an exhibition on Sandro Botticelli at the Legion of Honor museum in San Francisco have resulted in three drawings being newly attributed to the Renaissance master. The findings are the a result of years of research conducted by Furio Rinaldi, the curator of drawings and prints at Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF), the organisation that operates the Legion of Honor and de Young museums.

The new attributions include preparatory sketches for some of Botticelli’s most enduring paintings, The Cestello Annunciation (1489), The Adoration of the Magi (1470-75) and The Virgin and Child with Young St. John the Baptist (1468-70). The latter painting, which is in the Louvre’s permanent collection, will be displayed alongside its preparatory sketch in the Legion of Honor’s exhibition Botticelli Drawings (18 November 2023-11 February 2024).

Rinaldi “has done exceptional research in the years leading up to our Botticelli exhibition, which in itself promises to be a groundbreaking presentation on the centrality of draftsmanship to this world-renowned artist’s practice”, Thomas P. Campbell, FAMSF’s director and chief executive, said in a statement.

Botticelli Drawings will boast nearly 60 works drawn from 42 lending institutions. The exhibition’s emphasis on the artist’s drafting practice presents opportunities and difficulties: fewer than 30 of Botticelli’s drawings are believed to exist, due both to the low survival rate of works on paper from the Renaissance era and the artist’s stylistic inconsistency, making definitive attribution especially challenging.

Two drawings Rinaldi has identified as Botticelli originals are currently listed as anonymous 15th-century works at Christ Church Picture Gallery in Oxford. They appear to have been cut from the same sheet of paper prepared with yellow ochre and feature sensitive metalpoint renderings with white lead highlights, capturing the distinct facial types that were fixtures of Botticelli’s studio. The third newly attributed drawing, a metalpoint study of two young men’s heads, will be on loan from the Uffizi Gallery.

Two partial studies of a profile (around 1475), attributed to Sandro Botticelli Courtesy Gallerie degli Uffizi, Florence

“Exhibitions like this one represent an invaluable tool for art historical investigation,” Rinaldi said. “These new proposed attributions will help lay the groundwork for a fuller understanding of Botticelli’s artistic output and the field of Italian Renaissance art at large.”

Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, known as Sandro Botticelli, created what are considered some of the most enduring examples of the Renaissance-era preoccupation with all things beautiful. Best known for his lush 15th-century Vatican frescoes and arresting mythological paintings, like the iconic Birth of Venus (around 1485), Botticelli was a favourite of the Medici family. His aesthetic quest for balance and perfection reflected Neo-Platonic ideas of the time.

  • Botticelli Drawings, 18 November 2023-11 February 2024, Legion of Honor, San Francisco


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