Five works inspired by Botticelli
Botticelli Reimagined is at the V&A from 5 March until 3 July. Enjoy 50% off admission price with a National Art Pass.
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, La Ghirlandata, 1873
While Botticelli was much revered in his own time, after his death his reputation all but diminished. It wasn’t until the 19th century that a rediscovery of his work began, largely prompted by the Pre-Raphaelite artists who favoured not only Botticelli’s aesthetic but his penchant for using literature as his source of inspiration, and his spirit of experimentation. Dante Gabriel Rossetti was at the helm of the ‘Botticelli craze’, buying the Italian’s art, restoring it and offering it for sale to a network of connoisseurs or lending it to important exhibitions, as well as using it as a theme for his own poetry and paintings.
La Ghirlandata is a perfect example of the latter. Painted by Rossetti in 1873, it recalls the angels and saints he so admired in The Virgin and Child of his hero. When the influential collector William Graham bought it for 800 guineas he proclaimed it to be ‘exactly like Botticelli’ and implored Rossetti to create a companion piece in the same style. He said: ‘If Rossetti will only paint me pictures of this class, I will buy nothing else but his.’
Walter Crane, The Renaissance of Venus, 1877
During his 18-month honeymoon in Italy the artist Walter Crane stumbled across the work of Botticelli, which was yet to be repopularised by the critics. He would later say of the encounter, ‘I shall never forget the charm of his beautiful Venus.’
Crane’s homage to Botticelli now looks commonplace; in recent years The Birth of Venus has spawned many thousands of copies and reimaginings. But at the time this was created it was one of the first of its kind in Britain, and Botticelli was still largely unknown. Because of this, the painting hung in the Grosvenor Gallery for more than five years before it found a buyer – in the end being sold to the Pre-Raphaelite artist GF Watts, who had to pay for it in a series of £50 instalments.
Dolce and Gabbana, Venus Dress, 1993
The fashion designers Dolce & Gabbana often draw on their Italian heritage to create bold, socially aware collections. This dress, comprising a patchwork of photo-printed sections of the face and body of Botticelli’s goddess in Birth of Venus, shows the duo addressing pervasive concerns of the time: by emblazoning classical art on a piece of clothing they raise questions around whether mass production devalues culture, while the use of the goddess recognises the constant renegotiation of an ‘ideal’ female beauty. The dress re-emerged in popular consciousness in 2013 when it was worn by Lady Gaga to promote her Artpop album.
Another piece in the same Dolce & Gabbana (spring/summer 1993) collection was inspired by Botticelli’s Primavera, and echoed the windblown drapery of the Three Graces in its free-falling fabric.
Yin Xin, Venus, after Botticelli, 2008
Hailing from China but now living in Paris, Yin Xin reimagines traditional Old Master paintings with Asian characteristics. He is especially interested in iconic works that will be universally recognised in the West.
In this reappropriation of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Yin focuses on the primary figure’s head and shoulders in order to draw attention to her transformed features: her flowing hair is black instead of blonde and the shape of her eyes is unmistakably Asian. The artist says his work is inspired by a fascination with the European Old Masters, but his methods also reveal just how much the interpretation of art relies on ideas about the culture in which it was produced.
David LaChapelle, Rebirth of Venus, 2009
As his imagery started to become more politically charged and controversial, David LaChapelle retired from his career as a renowned fashion photographer to focus instead on creating art. In this guise, he has shown a fascination with Old Master paintings and Renaissance sculptures, which he often references in his work.
Here he turns his attention to Botticelli, reinterpreting the painter’s Birth of Venus in his trademark hyperreal aesthetic. A comment on today’s celebrity-obsessed, consumer-driven, appearance-led culture, the goddess to be worshipped in LaChapelle’s version is artificially blonde, slim, toned and tanned, wearing sparkly designer shoes.