Lot 126
  • 126

Alessandro Filipepi, called Sandro Botticelli Florence 1445-1510

bidding is closed


  • Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, called Sandro Botticelli
  • tempera on panel, transferred to canvas


(Probably) Lorenzo de' Medici (see note above);
Marquesa Margaret Rockefeller de Larrain (1897-1985);
By whom sold, New York, Sotheby Parke Bernet, January 8, 1981, lot 120 (as "School of Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus").


Florence, Casa Buonarroti, Il Giardino di San Marco. Maestri e Compagni del Giovane Michelangelo, June 30 - October 19, 1992, cat. no. 27;
Roslyn Harbor NY, Nassau County Museum of Art, From Botticelli to Matisse. Masterworks of the Guccione collection, January 16 - April 3, 1994.


(Probably) H.P. Horne, Botticelli. Painter of Florence, London 1908, pp. 183, 354;
(Probably) N. Pons, Botticelli. Catalogo completo, Milan 1989, p. 106 (under "Lost Works");
E. Fahy, in P. Barocchi et al., Il Giardino di San Marco. Maestri e Compagni del Giovane Michelangelo, exhibition catalogue, Florence, Casa Buonarroti, June 30 - October 19, 1992, cat. no. 27, reproduced.

Catalogue Note

The present work  has only recently be reintegrated in Botticelli's oeuvre.  Its importance has been missed by most Florentine Renaissance scholars, perhaps due to the painting being inaccessible and to its change in format. All four corners have been made up indicating that the painting was originally circular in format. The tondo is to be found principally in Florentine Quattrocento painting and Botticelli particularly favoured this format for his own works.  

In addition, there has been a general misunderstanding of the true subject of the painting.  When it was offered for sale in 1981 its subject was erroneously identified as The Birth of Venus, probably due to its reminiscences of Botticelli's famous painting of that subject in the Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence (reproduced in colour in R. Lightbown, Sandro Botticelli. Life and Work, New York 1989, pp. 154-5). In both pictures the female figure stands out at sea (in the Uffizi picture balancing on a shell whilst here it is less clear) and a personification of Zephyr blows air through pursed lips and puffed-out cheeks (in the Uffizi picture the figure is shown in its entirety whilst here only a fragment of his face is visible lower left). Fortune was traditionally shown in two guises: a female figure standing on a fortune wheel, or with nautical attributes as mistress of the seas. The former was particularly used in medieval times but was also adopted throughout the Renaissance (see, for example, Giuliano Bugiardini's painting in the Saibene collection, Milan, reproduced in L. Pagnotta, Giuliano Bugiardini, Turin 1987, fig. 60). The latter representation derived from antiquity but was also used in the Renaissance, in coins and medals as well as in the insignia of the Rucellai family, the wind and billowing sail held by Fortune alluding to her inconstancy (see also, in painted form, the figure of Fortune leading the cortège of Thetis in Bartolomeo di Giovanni's cassone panel in the Musée du Louvre, Paris, inv. R.F. 1347 (MN)).

Though ignored in much of the Botticelli literature, Everett Fahy was the first to reassign this work to Botticelli himself. The figure type is characteristic of the artist: Fortune’s swelling stomach and elongated limbs have much in common with those of Clori, the nymph in the Primavera (Uffizi, Florence) from whose mouth flowers spill. Fahy has dated the present painting to the early 1480s, that is around the same time as the Primavera (c.1482) and the Birth of Venus (c. 1484-6). Also characteristic of Botticelli is the decorative quality he gives to the gold tracings (presumably intended as the ropes holding the billowing sail) and fluttering ribbon at her feet. Fahy rightly points out that this picture had a more symbolic rather than narrative function and was therefore probably not intended to be viewed closely: the landscape is summarily painted and the composition is bold, but Botticelli does not describe the figure or her setting in any great detail.

Fahy has suggested the intriguing and highly plausible possibility that this painting once hung above the bed of Lorenzo de Medici, possibly forming part of a baldacchino. The posthumous inventory of Lorenzo’s belongings drawn up on April 8, 1492, lists amongst the objects in the ante-chamber of Lorenzo’s son, Piero: "Vna lettiera saluaticha dibr(accia) 4 Lu(n)gha co(n) p(re)delle atorno dinocie & tarsie & mazze et sachone Uno sopracielo adetto Letto didetta anticham(er)a dipintovj vna fortuna dimano disandro di botticello [A large unvarnished bedstead of 4 bracchia (armslengths) long with walnut footboards around with marquetry and mazze and sachone (unclear, possibly carvings of emblems?)... a canopy of the said bed in the aforementioned antichamber painted with a Fortune by the hand of Sandro Botticelli (cited in Horne, see Literature)]." Given the painting’s modest dimensions, its “legibility" from a distance, and its learned but also highly sensual subject matter, it seems quite plausible that it once formed part of a piece of bedroom furniture. Although a tondo may seem an unusual choice of format for a baldacchino, Fahy cites another such example; Francesco Granacci’s tondo (today in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin) commissioned by Salvi Borgherini for his son’s bedroom on the occasion of his marriage to Margherita Acciaiuoli in 1515 (A. Braham, “The Bed of Pierfrancesco Borgherini" in The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXXI, 1979, pp. 754-6, where the tondo is described as "il capoletto").

The painting once belonged to the Marquesa Margaret Rockefeller de Larrain, grand-daughter of John D. Rockefeller, who presumably acquired it in Italy where she once lived, in the Villa Le Balze in Fiesole (donated by her in December 1979 to Georgetown University).