The V&A’s new exhibition, “Botticelli Reimagined”, sponsored by Societe Generale, is a quirky, kitschy take on the legacy of one of the renaissance’s greatest artists.
From the moment you enter into the first darkened room, the lasting effect of his paintings is clear. One of the first things you’ll see is the infamous sequence from the first Bond film, “Dr No” (1962), in which Ursula Andress, playing Honey Ryder, emerges from the Caribbean Sea like a modern-day incarnation of the nude goddess in Botticelli’s Birth of Venus (1482-85), wearing only a white bikini and clutching a conch shell.
The pop culture references continue thick and fast throughout the “Global, Modern, Contemporary” area of the show, which demonstrates how Botticelli’s imagery attained its present level of acclaim. This section is permeated by the influence of “The Birth of Venus”, which cannot leave the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. Two Andy Warhol silkscreens from 1984 show Venus in acid colours, transforming Venus from a venerable museum work into a lurid billboard image. Meanwhile, David LaChapelle took Venus as his inspiration for his 2009 “Rebirth of Venus” photograph, which shows a sunkissed, bleach-blonde model recreating the Venus’ pose and flanked by two hunks.
There’s also a photo of Karen Mulder in a 1993 Dolce & Gabbana dress inspired by Botticelli’s Venus, showing the artist’s influence on fashion.
The “Rediscovery” section traces the impact of Botticelli’s art on the Pre-Raphaelite circle during the mid-19th Century. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Ruskin and Edward Burne-Jones all acquired works by Botticelli, and his aesthetic was reinterpreted in Rossetti’s “La Ghirlandata” (1873) and Burne-Jones’ “The Mill: Girls Dancing to Music by a River” (1870-82). The Florentine master’s celebrated Primavera haunts this section, as is shown by William Morris’ “The Orchard” (1890), a tapestry depicting medieval ladies in a bountiful setting, Evelyn De Morgan’s “Flora” (1894) illustrating the nymph of flowers, and the only surviving film of Isadora Duncan dancing (c.1900).
Of course, there’s a huge amount of work by Botticelli and his workshop to enjoy. In the final third of the exhibition, more than 50 artworks are presented in brightly lit rooms showing his skill as an artist and designer. Exhibits include his only signed and dated painting “The Mystic Nativity” (1500), three portraits supposedly of the legendary beauty Simonetta Vespucci, and the exquisitely detailed “Pallas and the Centaur” (1482), travelling to London for the first time. A number of variations on the Virgin and Child theme in different formats illustrate Botticelli’s creativity as a designer, while his skill as a draughtsman is evident in a spectacular group of drawings including five of his lyrical illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy.
Tickets cost £15 (concessions available). V&A Members go free.