5th March – 3rd July 2016
As the exhibition title suggests, the concept of this show is to look at how Botticelli and his works of art have inspired many artists. It also considers how, thanks to a continual revisiting of his work, his art has become a widely popular and recognisable part of our daily lives in such areas as film, fashion and even consumerist tat such as keyrings and snow globes. However, I found Botticelli Reimagined at the Victoria & Albert Museum was a tad irritating. It wasn’t the work from Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510), which was outstanding, or even the work he inspired, it was the curation.
The layout was the first issue. Seeing as this exhibition is about how Botticelli inspired artists one would assume that his works would come first so visitors can experience and contemplate his art. I would then expect to see how others have interpreted works such as The Birth of Venus. There is an assumed knowledge to this exhibition and not just because of the back to front curation but also because of the lack of accompanying literature.
No pamphlet on entry? For £15 per ticket this was a little irksome. There was very minimal information displayed on the wall of each room and most of the labels next to each piece contained irrelevant art details such as who owned it and that it was sold for a large sum. Fabulous for them but useless to people who are interested in art related facts.
The exhibition was a little smaller than some of the V&A’s previous ones and although many know Botticelli’s most famous work is The Birth of Venus, the majority of the inspired artists had “reimagined” this which unfortunately made for a slightly dull exhibition.
On the positive, and Botticelli’s work is a huge positive, I was relieved to finally come to the rooms containing works such as Mystic Nativity 1500. This colourful painting contains three layers of multiple figures engulfed in flowing drapery, floating and gathered together around the baby Jesus. The movement and peace in this scene is entrancing with captivating details such as the inconspicuous little devils at the bottom. This is the only signed and dated painting. It is embedded with a cryptic inscription in Greek, which probably alludes to the political and religious upheaval in Florence following the expulsion of the Medici in 1494.
Another highlight includes five (pen and ink over metal point on vellum) drawings of Dante’s Divine Comedy – which describe the authors journey through the three realms of the afterlife. This set incorporates the one and only signed drawing. You can find Botticelli’s signature on a tablet which an angel holds in the bottom left of the drawing.
This exhibition shows how Botticelli inspired people from artists such as, Gabriel Rossetti and Cindy Sherman to the fashion world with a dress designed by Dolce and Gabbana. How Early Italian Renaissance art has been absorbed into everyday life and culture and brought from its elevated position down to street level is an interesting concept for exploration. However, I still stand by the back to front positioning of the works and the lack of accompanying literature. If we are expected to explore art on its street level then maybe by removing the elite barriers and including a few explanatory notes it would make art more accessible to all.
Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL
Open daily 10am – 17:45.
For more info please visit www.vam.ac.uk
By Helen Shewry