Accompanying the exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (14 February - 19 May 2019), this catalogue explores the work of legendary Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli (about 1444-1510). Today the alluring and enigmatic Primavera forms the cornerstone of his modern fame, but its familiarity belies distant origins in the heady intellectual environment of Laurentian Florence and the residences of its moneyed elite. Part of a genre called spalliera, so named for their installation around shoulder (spalla) height, this type of painting introduced beautiful, strange, and disturbing images into lavish Florentine homes. With staggering originality, Botticelli reinvented ancient subjects for the domestic interior, paneling patrician bedrooms with moralizing tales and offering erudite instruction to their influential inhabitants.
At the center of this exhibition is a spalliera reunited, the Gardner's Tragedy of Lucretia and its companion The Tragedy of Virginia (Accademia Carrara, Bergamo). Together with extraordinary loans of the same genre from European and American public collections, Heroines and Heroes explores Botticelli's revolutionary approach to antiquity - from ancient Roman to early Christian - and offers a new perspective on his late career masterpieces.
Catalogue essays address Botticelli's spalliera (Nathaniel Silver), their violence (Scott Nethersole), his textual sources (Elsa Filosa), and rediscovery in Gilded Age Boston (Patricia Lee Rubin). Entries include new insights for each work and up-to-date bibliographies, while a special section features archival materials devoted to Gardner's pioneering acquisition of the first Botticelli in America.