Sandro Botticelli, "The Devout Jews at Pentecost" (c. 1505), black chalk, pen and brown ink, brown wash, highlighted with white gouache on paper (all images courtesy the Legion of Honor)

This fall, the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, California, will showcase the first major exhibition dedicated to Sandro Botticelli’s drawings. Known for masterpieces such as “The Adoration of the Magi” (c. 1476) and “The Birth of Venus” (c. 1486), the artist’s legacy will be re-examined in a new light through nearly 60 works, including 27 preliminary and experimental drawings that defined his foundational scholarship under draftsman Filippo Lippi and his later workshop practice in Florence, Italy.

According to the museum, the exhibition will feature five newly attributed drawings as well as a variety of rarely seen preparatory sketches that unpack the design process for several of Botticelli’s iconic paintings. Multiple institutions including the Morgan Library in New York City, the National Gallery in London, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the Galleria Borghese in Rome will be loaning out Botticelli’s paintings and works on paper from their collections for the first time to the Legion of Honor for this exhibition.

Furio Rinaldi, curator of the exhibition, said he felt lucky to work with the drawings. “As the first expression of an artist’s creative output, they generally allow a more personal and intimate connection with an artist’s inner world,” Rinaldi told Hyperallergic. “It has been incredibly rewarding, and often moving, being in such close touch with Botticelli’s thoughts on paper for all these years. His fluid command of the line is unparalleled.”

Sandro Botticelli. “Study of the head of a woman in profile (“La Bella Simonetta”) (recto); Study of the figure of Minerva (verso)” (c. 1485) (©️ Ashmolean Museum)

After 500 years, many of Botticelli’s drawings haven’t survived the test of time as works on paper and linen are extraordinarily delicate, and the artist was gravely ill and destitute in his final years after his work had fallen out of favor during a religious and political shift in Florence at the turn of the 16th century. Some of the featured works exist only as fragments, including pieces of the initial brush drawing on linen framework for “The Adoration of the Magi” on loan from the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Morgan Library collections. These fragments will actually be reunited with the Uffizi Gallery-based painting for the first time for the duration of the exhibition, illustrating a comprehensive map of the Renaissance artist’s compositional ideations, processes, and completion.

One of the newly attributed works that will be reunited with its completed form for the exhibition is the preparatory drawing for the Louvre Museum’s “The Virgin and Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist” (c. 1468–1480).

Botticelli Drawings will be on view at the Legion of Honor from November 18, 2023 through February 11, 2024. Rinaldi also worked on an illustrated catalogue co-published by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and Yale University Press.

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Rhea Nayyar

Rhea Nayyar (she/her) is a New York-based teaching artist who is passionate about elevating minority perspectives within the academic and editorial spheres of the art world. Rhea received her BFA in Visual...

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