Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection
18 February – 15 May 2016
A display of 30 drawings by Sandro Botticelli, that were at the heart of controversy when a UK collector sensationally sold them to a museum in Germany in the 19th century.
Queen Victoria herself tried to prevent this series of Botticelli illustrations from leaving the country when they were sold to the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett in 1882 by the 12th Duke of Hamilton. Even with the influence wielded by her daughter – who was married to the German crown prince – the monarch's efforts were unsuccessful and the works have remained at the museum ever since, where they are very rarely lent.
This spring The Courtauld Gallery presents an unusual opportunity to see the drawings, in which Botticelli illustrates Dante's journey through hell, purgatory and paradise as envisaged in the poem, Divine Comedy. Ten works capture each of its three parts; in hell Dante encounters moneylenders, corrupt clergy, evil sorcerers and other sinners, in purgatory he watches as the negligent and gluttonous perform penance, and in paradise he finds his lost love from youth, Beatrice.
The works are presented alongside examples of illuminated manuscripts from Botticelli's time, which were also part of the duke's collection that was controversially sold to Berlin.
A macabre highlight is Botticelli's gruesome full-length illustration of Lucifer, depicted gorging on the souls of three arch traitors.