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Art exhibit puts Botticelli's spiritual journey in historical framework


  • This painting titled "Madonna and Child. (Madonna of the Book)" (circa 1484-1490) by Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli is one of several included in an exhibition titled "Botticelli and the Search for the Divine" on display at museums in Williamsburg, Va., and Boston. (CNS photo/Muscarelle Museum of Art)
  • This painting titled "Venus" (circa 1484-1490) by Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli is one of several included in an exhibition titled "Botticelli and the Search for the Divine" on display at museums in Williamsburg, Va., and Boston. (CNS photo/Muscarelle Museum of Art)
  • This painting titled "St. Augustine in His Study" (circa 1480) by Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli is one of several included in an exhibition titled "Botticelli and the Search for the Divine" on display at museums in Williamsburg, Va., and Boston. (CNS photo/Muscarelle Museum of Art)

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WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (CNS) -- The culture wars of today have nothing on those from Renaissance times.

In Florence, Italy, in 1497 -- after people had been repeatedly warned that some instruments, books, sculptures, paintings and clothes could lead them away from their faith -- thousands of these items were thrown into a huge pile in the center of the city and burned in the famous Bonfire of the Vanities.

Among the works of art said to be set afire were some of the paintings of nudes or characters from mythology by Sandro Botticelli, who was a contemporary and friend of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci and who painted a number of religious images and the famous paintings "Birth of Venus" and "Primavera."

A current U.S. exhibition of Botticelli's works, many of them appearing in this country for the first time, places the modern audience right in the middle of this tumultuous period and also shows how this time of intense spiritual scrutiny impacted the artist.

"Botticelli and the Search for the Divine: Florentine Painting Between the Medici and the Bonfire of the Vanities" opened Feb. 11 at Muscarelle Museum of Art at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg. After its April 5 closing there, the exhibit heads to its only other venue, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where it will be on display April 18-July 9.

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