A Guardian Book of the Day
A true historical “detective story” full of insight about how we look at art—and the artists and eras that produced it
Some 500 years ago, Sandro Botticelli, a painter of humble origin, created work of unearthly beauty. An intimate associate of Florence’s unofficial rulers, the Medici, he was commissioned by a member of their family to execute a near-impossible project: to illustrate all 100 cantos of The Divine Comedy by the city’s greatest poet, Dante Alighieri. A powerful encounter between poet and artist, sacred and secular, earthly and evanescent, these drawings produced a wealth of stunning images but were never finished. Botticelli declined into poverty and obscurity, and his illustrations went missing for 400 years.
The nineteenth-century rediscovery of Botticelli’s Dante drawings brought scholars to their knees: this work embodied everything the Renaissance had come to mean. Today, Botticelli’s Primavera adorns household objects of every kind. This book is essential to explain not only how and why this artist became iconic, but why we need still need his work—and the spirit of the Renaissance—today.
- A New Yorker Best Book of 2022
"A fresh account of the Renaissance… [an] elegant exploration" — Kathryn Hughes, The Guardian
"Botticelli’s Secret’ brilliantly sets the operatic stage of vibrant, violent Renaissance Florence and brings to life the characters who helped resurrect Botticelli in the 19th and 20th centuries..." — Max Norman, The Wall Street Journal
"In this wide-ranging history, Luzzi considers why the drawings, which illustrated eighty-eight cantos of Dante’s Divine Comedy, had fallen into oblivion, and charts both Dante’s and Botticelli’s reputations across the ages." — New Yorker
"The Italian Renaissance has rarely been so brilliantly examined or put before us in such a delectable style. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves art, who enjoys good storytelling, who is interested in how the human spirit rediscovered itself in such a magnificent and dramatic fashion." — Jay Parini, author of Borges and Me
"I love everything Joseph Luzzi writes, and this might be his best book yet. As always, it’s full of his intimate and personal insights into the masters and masterpieces of Renaissance Italy, told with his unique blend of scholarship and superb storytelling—all in the service of a wonderful portrait of Florence from Dante to Botticelli and beyond." — Ross King, author of Leonardo and the Last Supper
Shortlisted — Phi Beta Kappa Ralph Waldo Emerson Award, 2023