Botticelli, and: Sandro Botticelli (review)
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Reviewed by
Alessandro Cecchi. Botticelli. Milan: Federico Motta Editore, 2005. 384 pp. index. append. illus. bibl. €135. ISBN: 88-7179-480-X.
Frank Zöllner. Sandro Botticelli. Trans. Ishbel Flett. Munich: Prestel Verlag, 2005. 320 pp. index. illus. bibl. $165. ISBN: 3-7913-3272-4.

At first glance the Botticelli monographs by Alessandro Cecchi and Frank Zöllner seem quite similar. Both of these large and richly illustrated volumes — with no less than 215 color images in the former and 240 in the latter — have thematic chapters arranged in a roughly chronological sequence. The authors include all the paintings they accept as autograph. These corpuses present no [End Page 915] surprises for readers familiar with the standard monograph by Ronald Lightbown (1978), though both Cecchi and Zöllner rightly accept the recently restored Portrait of a Woman in Frankfurt. Zöllner closes his book with a short catalogue of paintings and checklist of drawings, both illustrated; Cecchi has an appendix of six unpublished documents.

The texts of these monographs, however, reveal quite different approaches to Renaissance art. Zöllner's primary interest lies in the "social, historical, and artistic context of Botticelli's work" (6), as well as the iconography. His chapters offer useful and accurate discussions on culture and society. "Botticelli as Portraitist," for example, provides a balanced and well-organized summary of recent literature on idealized images, the functions of portraits, and their relation to poetry. On the other hand, Zöllner devotes little attention to questions of dating, attribution, or documentation, and on these issues he regularly defers to the opinions of others. Cecchi, in contrast, focuses almost exclusively on these three points. His stated goal is to impose some order on the massive production of Botticelli's workshop. This material was catalogued so efficiently by Lightbown that he stifled further research. For nearly thirty years most authors have accepted his attributions and chronology. Cecchi, however, has carefully reconsidered every work ascribed to the master. In the tradition of Herbert Horne, Cecchi also spent years in the archives and uncovered new information on Botticelli's life, family, workshop, and patrons.

The different methodologies employed by Cecchi and Zöllner often lead to different conclusions. In his chapter on portraits, Zöllner describes the Frankfurt portrait as depicting Simonetta Vespucci; in the catalogue he notes that "on stylistic grounds, most authors suggest a date some time in the early 1480s . . . even though a date more than four years after the death of the young woman in 1476 appears to make little sense in terms of the function of the portrait and its variations" (214). Cecchi, however, convincingly dates the panel to "at least eight years" (226) after Simonetta's death, and thus rejects the traditional identification of the sitter. Just a few years can make all the difference. For the Primavera, the date of the work may help identify its function. For Zöllner, "the context of this painting and the main message of the most relevant literary sources lead to the logical conclusion . . . [that it] was produced between 1480 and 1482 as a marriage piece to mark the wedding of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici" (211); the chapter thus considers epithalamic imagery. He rejects an interpretation of the painting proposed by Charles Dempsey because "the cornerstone of this thesis — the rural location of the painting — has now proved incorrect." Zöllner refers to the inclusion of the Primavera in the 1498 inventory of Lorenzo's townhouse, but Cecchi, following Dempsey, observes that the document merely records the location of the painting many years after it was completed. Cecchi also notes that in moments of political turmoil, such as the revolution of 1494, citizens may well have moved works between their residences in the town and countryside. As a result, we do not know the original location of Lorenzo's possessions. Rather than date the Primavera on the basis of its setting in 1498 or its presumed message, Cecchi considers the style and suggests it was made in about 1478. Unfortunately, [End Page 916] here and throughout the book he offers little justification for proposed datings, though he makes a convincing comparison between Flora in...