Botticelli: Heroines + Heroes
February 14 - May 19, 2019
February 14 - May 19, 2019
Legendary painter Sandro Botticelli transformed ancient stories of lust, betrayal, and violence into Renaissance parables. In 1894, Isabella Stewart Gardner bought the Story of Lucretia, bringing the first Botticelli to America. Heroines + Heroes reunites her iconic Lucretia with its companion Virginia from the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo, a pair of paintings conceived for the Vespucci family palace in Florence. Together with additional extraordinary loans from Europe and the United States, this exhibition invites you to explore Botticelli's revolutionary narratives, as he reinvented ancient Roman and early Christian heroines and heroes as Renaissance role models.
The two paintings at the heart of this exhibition, the Story of Lucretia and the Story of Virginia, contain themes that resonate in Botticelli's time and ours. Both women led virtuous lives and met tragic ends that had far reaching political consequences. Lucretia’s suicide led to the establishment of Rome as a republic, and Virginia’s death restored it. Yet pivotal events transpired beyond their control, including Lucretia’s rape and Virginia’s murder. Are Lucretia and Virginia exemplars of female strength and heroism, or do their stories only illustrate male aggression in a long history of injustice against women?
In each of the paintings in this exhibition, Botticelli updated stories of ancient heroines and heroes for political and patriotic purposes. He transformed these women, as well as several men, into role models for Florence’s elite citizens. This exhibition encourages you to consider the stories of Lucretia, Virginia, Zenobius, and the Virgin Mary from different perspectives and to reflect on their impact today. To that end, the award-winning graphic novelist Karl Stevens offers a contemporary lens on Botticelli’s work in a visual medium of our own time—the cartoon.
At the center of this exhibition is a spalliera reunited: the Gardner’s Story of Lucretia and its companion the Story of Virginia (Accademia Carrara, Bergamo). Together with extraordinary loans of the same genre from European and American public collections, Heroines + Heroes explores Botticelli’s revolutionary approach to antiquity – from ancient Roman to early Christian – and offers a new perspective on his late career masterpieces.
Botticelli: Heroines + Heroes is supported in part by The Robert Lehman Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Museum receives operating support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which receives support from the State of Massachusetts and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Media Sponsor: The Boston Globe
The special exhibition preview and reception for Botticelli: Heroines + Heroes is generously sponsored by Bank of America.