by Mia Levenson
‘Botticelli in the Fire’ isn’t history — not by a long shot. But here’s a primer on the real figures who inspired the characters in the play:
Sandro Botticelli (1445–1510). Born Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi.
An artist whose paintings are the pinnacle of humanist art in Renaissance Florence. Under the patronage of the Medici family, his work was known for capturing the vitality and beauty of the human form.
In the early 1490s, his paintings became smaller in scale, the figures more slenderer, and less idealistically natural, which is thought to be due to his falling under the influence of Girolamo Savonarola.
Lorenzo de’ Medici (1449–1492). A member of the famed Medici family, who used banking and commerce to attain wealth and political power. With no official title, he was the de facto ruler of Florence from 1469 to 1492, earning the name “il Magnifico” after initiating a treaty with the King of Naples. He was a devoted patron of the arts who supported the works of many Renaissance artists.
Clarice Orsini (1450–1488) was married to Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1468. She was from Roman aristocracy, and her marriage brought the Medici family closer to the papacy. Their son, Giovanni, later became Pope Leo X. Her piety and “foreignness” (as a Roman rather than a Florentine) made her disliked by the general population of Florence.
Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519). An artist, inventor, engineer, and intellectual. He was the embodiment of Renaissance humanist ideals. At 15, he was first apprenticed under artist Andrea del Verrochio. In 1482, he left Florence for Milan, perhaps drawn to that city’s stricter academic atmosphere. In Milan he became interested in human anatomy, leading to his iconic drawing of the Vitruvian Man (c. 1490).
Girolamo Savonarola (1452–1498). A populist ascetic preacher invited to Florence by Lorenzo de’ Medici in 1490. His tirades denounced the Medici and the papacy, berating their corruption and scandal. When the Medici fled after a poorly received decision to ally with France, Savonarola hoped to found a “City of God” in Florence, leading him to initiate the “Bonfire of the Vanities.” A year later, he was excommunicated and executed by the Catholic Church for heresy.
Mia Levenson is Woolly Mammoth’s resident Literary Fellow.