Botticelli, star of a thousand mouse mats. Venus emerging from her shell with only luxuriant hair to cover her modesty or Primavera with her floral frock are familiar even to those who have never stepped foot in Florence. James Bond kicks the exhibition off with Ursula Andress emerging from the sea in homage to Venus. The first shiny black gallery is devoted to the many modern artists who have taken Botticelli as their starting point. Dolce and Gabbana trouser suits, Andy Warhol screen prints, colour saturated photographs by David LaChapelle all jostle for attention. My own favourite was a Magritte that sees Primavera gracing a silhouette of a bowler hatted man.
Glossy black gives way to a calm Victorian gallery festooned with the stars of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. We are here because, strange though it may seem, Botticelli having been a superstar in his own time was forgotten for a couple of hundred years. It was Rossetti, Morris and their chums that rediscovered him. His clarity and flowing frocks appealed to them. One wall is filled with a William Morris tapestry woven in Merton entitled “the Orchard” showing four women in the guise of the seasons.
Duck-egg blue and oak give way to a stark white gallery. Here we meet Sandro Botticelli himself. Sixty or so paintings, either by Botticelli or produced in his workshop, have been gathered together. He was stunningly good at depicting beautiful virgins and stunningly bad at baby Jesus, maybe that’s the way that babies looked in the late fifteenth century. Dante Gabriel Rossetti owned a Botticelli and now it is in the V&A’s collection; Smerelda Bandinelli has been cleaned up for this exhibition and looks stunning.
Coffee has to be taken in the V&A’s own tea rooms that are a magnificent confection designed by the luminaries of the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Where better to sit and ponder on the painting that you have just seen?
BOTTICELLI REIMAGINAGED at the Victoria and Albert Museum
5 March 2016 – 3 July 2016
Open daily from 10:00 to 17:45
Open Friday from 10:00 to 22:00
Admission: £15 adult, concessions and family tickets are available.
Friends of the V&A go free.