Christ Church drawings could be studies for Botticelli paintings

Anonymous Florentine drawings or rare Botticelli studies? Research ahead of a major exhibition suggests two Christ Church drawings could be studies for the artist’s early panel paintings.

Ahead of a major exhibition on the drawings of Sandro Botticelli, two works from the collection of Christ Church Picture Gallery have been attributed to the Florentine master whose work includes the Birth of Venus and La Primavera.

The curator of the exhibition, Furio Rinaldi, after seeing the two Christ Church drawings in person was convinced that they were not only “very Botticellian in type”, as observed by previous scholars, but that they were by the master himself.

Drawing of a head, possibly by BotticelliIn an article in the April edition of the Burlington Magazine, Dr Rinaldi, the curator of drawings and prints at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, confirms his observations and anchors the two head studies firmly in Botticelli’s oeuvre. He links the Study of Head of a Man to a face in Botticelli’s painting of The Adoration of the Magi (1470–75) at the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the Study for a Head of a Woman to The Virgin and Child with Young St. John the Baptist (1468–70) at the Louvre in Paris.

Drawing of a head, possibly by BotticelliBoth drawings are fine and carefully rendered facial types in silverpoint on prepared paper and highlighted with white and toned with brush. Rinaldi places them at the beginning of Botticelli’s career and suggests that they were head studies created as part of the master’s repertoire that could be adapted for various paintings.

Despite Botticelli’s celebrated status, his drawings remain rare and understudied and it will be thrilling to see many of his works on paper assembled in one place and in one exhibition. Christ Church Picture Gallery is proud and honoured to play a major part in the new discussions on and discoveries of Botticelli, the draughtsman, with these two drawings.