Botticelli Today

The Botticelli exhibit is a refreshing take on some of his most famous paintings — and showcases the Gardner's amazing ability to take a painting or artist and share a whole new perspective.

Using Botticelli's spalliera (horizontal paintings typically hung at eye level above storage chests), contemporary artist Karl Stevens created cartoons to accompany the pieces and lend a modern understanding of the scenes depicted.

If you know your myths, biblical stories, and foundation tales you might be disheartened that they have to be broken down in such a way for today's viewer — but I thought the accompaniment of modern cartoon to Renaissance painting an interesting and approachable take.

Cartoon spread of Berenson and Gardner's correspondence over the Botticelli

I think the Gardner does an excellent job translating the essence and themes within Botticelli's works, and I'd prefer a museum to overly educate and simplify a story than leave it up to the viewer to comprehend what's going on — a great way to bring in non-western art history folks!

Letter to Isabella

In 2017 I went to the MFA's Botticelli exhibit (read more here), and the Gardner exhibit intimately displays how to read spalliere and understand them in a modern context.

Isabella was the first collector to bring Botticelli to America (thank to Berenson's tireless efforts).

Not only did renowned art historian Bernard Berenson convince Isabella to purchase a Botticelli Spalliera, it brought an awareness of Botticelli's work to America.

"When the haughty New Yorkers come here and ask with an artisocratical sneer whether we have any pictures in our Museum as good as the [Metropolitan Museum of Art]...we shall say - casually — 'oh yes — we have the best Botticelli in America — would you like to look at it?"

These spalliera can be read left to right, where one panel includes multiple scenes in a story timeline a typical practice for Renaissance panel paintings.

Story of Lucretia, 1500, Gardner Collection

Cartoon rendering of Lucretia's story, Karl Stevens 2019

Three Miracles of Zenobius, 1500, National Gallery London

Three Miracles of Zenobius, 1500, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Four Scenes from Early Life of Zenobius, 1500, National Gallery London

The Story of Virginia, 1500, Accademia Carrara

Cartoon of Story of Virginia, Karl Stevens, 2019

Adoration of the Magi, 1500, Gallerie degli Uffizi

I'll let the artwork speak for itself, but if you're in the area the exhibit closes May 19 so hurry before its gone!

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