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Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

The student news site of The Harker School.

Harker Aquila

Winged Post
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Out of the nest: Trace the line

“Botticelli Drawings” guides visitors through time
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Emma Li
“Botticelli Drawings” welcomes visitors with a projected slideshow of the exhibit. The Legion of Honor’s exhibition is the first to focus on the preparatory drawings over the finished pieces.

As an artist works, countless lines are sketched, erased and refined between studies and finished product. In presenting a piece to the public, they draw one final line connecting themselves and the viewer. What matters more, the final line or the ones which produced it?

The Legion of Honor is hosting an exhibit dedicated to Sandro Botticelli, the first ever to focus on the Renaissance painter’s drawings. Sketches showing off Botticelli’s technique and control of lines are displayed next to the paintings featuring the figures from the studies of light, anatomy, draping and composition.

Botticelli’s relationship with the line extends beyond artistic technique to ‘disegno,’ the combination of the intellectual and visual. The concise flow of his linework threads between his faces, his figures and his compositions. His prioritization of the line over shape contains a duality, seaming together the physical action of drawing and the conceptual exercise of design.

The exhibit is sectioned into seven rooms chronicling Botticelli’s journey from apprentice to Medici star to poverty. The chronological separation of the rooms emphasizes the changes and continuities of his technique. Visitors Julio P. and Sophia C. recommend a visit for the artistic and historical context the exhibit provides.

“It’s not just the works, it’s also the sketches that went into it,” Julio said. “You’re seeing the before and after of the art. Seeing all the studies, you see the outline of a certain part of a painting. You really have to look hard at how they tried to figure out the best way to sketch something.”

Throughout his career, he repeatedly painted the same subjects, such as the Virgin Mary with Jesus and the Visitation. Studying these iterations, viewers can trace Botticelli’s evolution.

Botticelli’s artistic career began in Filippo Lippi’s studio, but he shot to fame with the patronage of the Medici family. Under Lippi, he developed a special attention to detail, apparent in his 1475 “Adoration of the Magi.” The variety of angles and faces, many of them Medici bigwigs, comes from his focused studies.

As the political scene of Florence shifted from Medici hedonism to Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola’s puritanism, Botticelli’s work followed suit. In Savonarola’s Burning of the Vanities, Botticelli destroyed much of his work. His art, now more spiritual, simultaneously simplified and gained depth.

Visitors admire the “Mystical Visitation.” Botticelli produced this piece during the religious frenzy of Girolamo Savonarola. (Alison Yang)

My favorite iteration of the Visitation comes from this room, his 1500 “The Mystical Nativity.” Unlike traditional depictions of the event, the kings are dressed in simple clothing. Additionally, Botticelli manipulates the proportions of the figures, playing with hierarchical scale and alluding to medieval art. Its abstraction of its subjects forces a focus on composition and design. In abandoning material decadence and convention, Botticelli flexes his understanding of the line beyond its use as a tool, rather something rhythmic.

The exhibit concludes with Botticelli’s final “Adoration of the Magi,” an inversion of the 1475 painting. Unfinished, the painting occupies a full wall, surrounded by a gallery of preparatory drawings. Due to the lack of doors between the rooms, the giant painting looms even from the previous sections of the gallery.

Half-rendered, the 1500 “Adoration” is trapped in a liminal state. Juxtaposed with Botticelli’s sketches, viewing the incomplete figures next to their sketched version feels voyeuristic. The line between process and product blurs. Upon exiting the final room, viewers directly face the first room again.

It’s surreal to actually see what he did with his hands. To be in the physical presence of these paintings is awesome, a very intimate view of his work

— Vincent Russo, 'Botticelli Drawings' visitor

The Legion of Honor’s architecture compliments the exhibition’s deconstruction of distinction, artistic and temporal. Us viewers and the artist are forced closer, but it is unclear if we are taking a peek behind the scenes or if Botticelli is thrust forward and exposed.

Vincent Russo and Laura Griffiths came to the exhibit to introduce their daughter to Botticelli, an artist who plays a special role in their relationship. For their first Christmas, he gifted his now-wife a card with four of Botticelli’s angels. ‘You’re the one on the right,’ he wrote.

“It’s surreal to actually see what he did with his hands,” Vincent said. “To be in the physical presence of these paintings is awesome, a very intimate view of his work.”

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About the Contributors
Alison Yang, Co-A&E and Lifestyle Editor
Alison Yang (11) is the co-arts and entertainment and lifestyle editor for Harker Aquila and the Winged Post, and this is her third year on staff. Alison is looking forward to getting to know more people and working on photography. She also likes to hang out with her cat Schrödinger, play Russian Fishing 4 and watching bad movies.
Emma Li, Reporter
Emma Li (10) is a reporter for Harker Aquila, and this is her second year on staff. She hopes to improve her interviewing skills this year, improve her time management in order to turn in pieces more efficiently, and make her writing more direct and concise. Right now, she likes listening to soft rock, psychedelic rock, and some hip-hop.

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