Discover Rossetti's Botticelli

9 March 2016

Sandro Botticelli’s Portrait of a Lady known as Smeralda Bandinelli (1470-80) was once owned by the Pre-Raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82). The painting features in the V&A’s blockbuster Botticelli Reimagined. Discover more about the portrait and the lasting impact Botticelli had on the Pre-Raphaelites. 


Portrait of a Lady known as Smeralda Bandinelli, 1470-85 by Sandro Botticelli, V&A London
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Detail

1. Rossetti bought Portrait of a Lady known as Smeralda Bandinelli in 1867 at Christie’s. He allegedly paid £20 for the painting and a further £4 for it to be cleaned. Rossetti had viewed several paintings by Botticelli during a trip to Paris with fellow Pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt in 1849.

Many of Rossetti’s circle who were rich enough to travel would have discovered Botticelli during trips to Florence; Edward Burne-Jones, William Michael Rossetti and John Everett Millais all visited around this period. Until this point, Botticelli had largely been forgotten for 300 years, and the revival of the artist by the Pre-Raphaelites led to the Italian painter’s artistic legacy being fully realised in the 20th century.

2. The sitter is believed to be Smeralda Bandinelli, the supposed grandmother of the 16th-century sculptor Baccio Bandinelli. The portrait is of particular note because Botticelli has rejected the traditional profile pose used in portraits of Renaissance women. The three-quarter, straight-on framing of the posture creates a movement and energy not usually seen in portraits such as this.

The column in the window, a symbol of the sitter’s marital status, commonly represented fortitude and constancy.

3. This portrait was pivotal in the Victorian rediscovery of Botticelli and the adoption of the artist by both the Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movements. Botticelli’s vision of feminine beauty, flowing gowns and drapes, his palette of rich reds and burnt oranges and his compositional flair were adopted by these groups.

Rossetti believed the sitter was also the model for the figure of Venus in Botticelli’s masterpiece Primavera, which he celebrated in the sonnet ‘For Spring, by Sandro Botticelli’, published in 1881, a year before his death. This fantasy drew Rossetti closer to Botticelli as he likened this relationship to that of his own with his model and muse Jane Morris.

4. Until recently it was believed by some that, due to Rossetti’s predilection for redheads, the artist had painted over the subject’s hair himself, giving Smeralda a red tint. After the V&A conducted scientific research and restoration of the painting, it was found that the layers of paint had not been altered as much as scholars once thought.

In 1880, a year after his own version had been completed, Rossetti sold Portrait of a Lady known as Smeralda Bandinelli to his patron, Constantine Alexander Ionides, who eventually bequeathed the portrait to the V&A. Rossetti’s version reached over a third more than the price of Botticelli’s Smeralda.

5. Botticelli’s appropriation of the poet Petrarch’s ideal of beauty – blonde hair, light skin and red lips – can be seen as a major influence on the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic of female beauty. Rossetti borrowed heavily from Botticelli’s portrait of Smeralda for his 1879 work La Donna della Finestra or Lady of the Window.

The similarities are clear to see: the rich palette of reds, oranges, and pinks; the deep, fixed stare of the sitter holding our gaze; red waves of hair surrounding the face; the framing of the sitter by door and window frames; pursed and richly coloured lips; and the position of the hands with long, elegant fingers.

Hover over the image to explore Botticelli’s Portrait of a Lady known as Smeralda Bandinelli. Click on a section to zoom in and discover the story behind the portrait and how Botticelli enthralled a generation of Victorian artists and art critics. 

1. Rossetti bought Portrait of a Lady known as Smeralda Bandinelli in 1867 at Christie’s. He allegedly paid £20 for the painting and a further £4 for it to be cleaned. Rossetti had viewed several paintings by Botticelli during a trip to Paris with fellow Pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt in 1849.

Many of Rossetti’s circle who were rich enough to travel would have discovered Botticelli during trips to Florence; Edward Burne-Jones, William Michael Rossetti and John Everett Millais all visited around this period. Until this point, Botticelli had largely been forgotten for 300 years, and the revival of the artist by the Pre-Raphaelites led to the Italian painter’s artistic legacy being fully realised in the 20th century.

2. The sitter is believed to be Smeralda Bandinelli, the supposed grandmother of the 16th-century sculptor Baccio Bandinelli. The portrait is of particular note because Botticelli has rejected the traditional profile pose used in portraits of Renaissance women. The three-quarter, straight-on framing of the posture creates a movement and energy not usually seen in portraits such as this.

The column in the window, a symbol of the sitter’s marital status, commonly represented fortitude and constancy.

3. This portrait was pivotal in the Victorian rediscovery of Botticelli and the adoption of the artist by both the Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts movements. Botticelli’s vision of feminine beauty, flowing gowns and drapes, his palette of rich reds and burnt oranges and his compositional flair were adopted by these groups.

Rossetti believed the sitter was also the model for the figure of Venus in Botticelli’s masterpiece Primavera, which he celebrated in the sonnet ‘For Spring, by Sandro Botticelli’, published in 1881, a year before his death. This fantasy drew Rossetti closer to Botticelli as he likened this relationship to that of his own with his model and muse Jane Morris.

4. Until recently it was believed by some that, due to Rossetti’s predilection for redheads, the artist had painted over the subject’s hair himself, giving Smeralda a red tint. After the V&A conducted scientific research and restoration of the painting, it was found that the layers of paint had not been altered as much as scholars once thought.

In 1880, a year after his own version had been completed, Rossetti sold Portrait of a Lady known as Smeralda Bandinelli to his patron, Constantine Alexander Ionides, who eventually bequeathed the portrait to the V&A. Rossetti’s version reached over a third more than the price of Botticelli’s Smeralda.

5. Botticelli’s appropriation of the poet Petrarch’s ideal of beauty – blonde hair, light skin and red lips – can be seen as a major influence on the Pre-Raphaelite aesthetic of female beauty. Rossetti borrowed heavily from Botticelli’s portrait of Smeralda for his 1879 work La Donna della Finestra or Lady of the Window.

The similarities are clear to see: the rich palette of reds, oranges, and pinks; the deep, fixed stare of the sitter holding our gaze; red waves of hair surrounding the face; the framing of the sitter by door and window frames; pursed and richly coloured lips; and the position of the hands with long, elegant fingers.

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Portrait of a Lady known as Smeralda Bandinelli, 1470-85 by Sandro Botticelli, V&A London
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London.