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The Art of Botticelli | The Face That Launched A Thousand Prints

Simonetta Vespucci, The Art of Botticelli

The Birth of Venus
(detail of Simonetta Vespucci)
Sandro Botticelli

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The visage of a ravishing, young woman appears again and again in the art of Botticelli. It is a face that is almost as familiar to art lovers as that of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa. Botticelli's model for his most famous art work, The Birth of Venus, was the beautiful Simonetta Vespucci. Once nominated "The Queen of Beauty" at a Florentine jousting tournament, it was Simonetta's face that Botticelli painted on an art banner. The art banner was carried into battle by the tournament winner, Giuliano de' Medici, a man soon to become her lover.  Inscribed beneath her image, Botticelli described her as "the unparalleled one."

Only shortly after her arrival in Florence, Simonetta became known as "La Bella Simonetta," attracting the attention of poets and artists like Botticelli. They vied to honor her with their artistic creations. At the age of fifteen, Simonetta married a cousin of Amerigo Vespucci, the famous Italian explorer for whom America was named. It was through the Vespucci family connection that Simonetta first met Botticelli and the Medici family, prominent political figures and art patrons.

Simonetta, "the unparalleled one," personified ideal beauty

The face of Simonetta personified the Italian Renaissance concept of ideal beauty. This was important to artists like Botticelli, who thought that outward beauty reflected inner beauty or virtue (spiritual beauty). Simonetta died in 1476 at the age of twenty-two, but Botticelli continued to feature her image in his art for the rest of his life. All of Botticelli's female art images were portraits of Simonetta. Upon his death three decades later, Botticelli requested to be buried at Simonetta's feet.

Brenda Harness, Art Historian

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