Thursday, September 4, 2008

Ruskin and Sandro Botticelli


John Ruskin was actually one of the first people associated with the Pre-Raphaelites to have rediscovered Botticelli, but the reason it isn't written about much is that Ruskin's initial reaction to Botticelli was tepid at best. After hearing about Botticelli from some friends in the aesthetic movement, Ruskin had his assistant Fairfax Murray purchase Botticelli's Virgin and Child for a mere 300 pounds in 1877 (can you even imagine having an original Botticelli for a mere 600 dollars? Even in 1870s dollars, that was a tremendous bargain), but when the painting arrived, Ruskin wrote Murray that the Bottecelli was "so ugly that I've dared not show it to a human soul. Your buying such an ugly thing has shaken my very trust in you"(145).

Ruskin was so disgusted with Murray's purchase that he left the painting out of his writings entirely. Nevertheless, Ruskin renewed his interested in Botticelli later in life, when his friend Edward Burne-Jones became a fan. In 1872 Ruskin travelled to Rome to examine Bottecelli's frescoes at the Sistine Chapel up close, and returned two years later to study them again. As time went by, he slowly began to see Botticelli as an important figure representing the continuity between the Greek and Christian traditions. I wonder if he ever warmed up to the Bottecelli he had in his own private collection? (The painting is now held by the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford).

Robert Hewison. Ruskin, Turner and the Pre-Raphaelites. London: Tate Gallery Publishing, 2000.

7 comments:

willow said...

Can you believe those prices?! I love the colors and Virgin's serene face in this painting.

A World Away said...

Once again the old adage, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, rings true. We can always look back and say 'I should have bought that then'

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

It's amusing to me how our strongly held feelings regarding art and design can modify as we change over the years. I would hope he began to appreciate his own Botticelli in time.

Margaret said...

Yes, it makes me feel a little better about how fickle I am, actually. And as Stephen says, beauty is definitely in the eye of the beholder!

Judy said...

Spencer Stanhope also owned a Madonna and Child by Botticelli which has since been downgraded to a "school of" piece. He sold it to raise money to build a bell tower for his parish church in Florence.

Margaret said...

That's really interesting Judy, I had no idea. It's amazing how little some of these pieces of artwork are. How generous of Stanhope to sell a painting to buy a bell tower for his church!

wanderlustnpixiedust said...

Thanks for sharing this story. I had never heard it. before. Although this particular painting is not one of my favorites, I must admit to be very fond of Bottcelli's work general.