Not Gaspare, then who?

Adoration of the Magi, by Sandro Botticelli, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Supposedly, Botticelli’s version of the Adoration of the Magi, which is now housed in the Uffizi, Florence, was commissioned by Gaspare di Zanobi del Lama for his funerary chapel in Santa Maria Novella.

While there is documentation referring to the chapel as Capella Magorum (Chapel of the Magi) and also Gaspare’s first will mentions that “the chapel is said to be under the title of, The Three Magi on the Day of the Epiphany of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Hatfield, Botticelli’s Uffizi “Adoration”, p.31), there is seemingly no evidence that Gaspare ever commissioned Botticelli to produce the painting. That the painting may have been displayed in the chapel as an altarpiece at some time is hardly proof that it was commissioned by Gaspare who died around April 25, 1481.

Some historians refer to the line of figures with their backs to the wall on the right side of the painting (see above), and suggest that the pointing man facing the viewer is likely to be Gaspare identifying himself as the patron of the work, and wanting to be seen in the company of the Medici family. But Hatfield considered him “one of the pettiest figures ever to have crossed the pages of Florentine history” – “a nobody”.

So if it is not Gaspare pointing to himself, then who could it be? The painting makes several references to the works of Leonardo da Vinci, particularly on the left hand side of the painting (a pointer to Leonardo being left-handed). The left side of the painting also depicts the poet and writer Poliziano, source for the account of Giuliano de’ Medici’s assassination, which Botticelli has referred to also in the left section.

The right side of the composition is partly a mirror effect of some of the figures portrayed on the opposite side, except there are slight differences in portrayal and narrative, and likely a reference to Leonardo and ingenuity for “mirror-writing”.

Leonardo’s creative skills were initially developed while serving as an apprentice in the Florentine studio of Andrea del Verrocchio, goldsmith painter and sculptor. He joined Verrocchio’s workshop in 1466 at the age of 14 and worked there for the next ten years.

This section of the painting also references works and ideas of Leonardo, as well as Verrocchio, and it it possible that some of the figures lined up against the back wall are other artists and craftsmen who served in Verrocchio’s workshop, including Botticelli shown in a self portrait in the corner of the frame.

This links to another self-portrait in the line-up, that of Andrea del Verrocchio, the man in the blue gown pointing to himself, and his own self portrait that is now housed in the Uffizi, and which Botticelli may have utlised for his painting.

Andrea del Verrocchio, self portrait, c 1468-70, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

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