“Temptations of Christ”
Artist: Sandro Botticelli
Location: Sistine Chapel, Vatican City (Rome)
Medium: Fresco (Pigment and Water on Fresh Plaster)
Dimensions: 345.5 cm × 555 cm (136.0 in × 219 in)
Sandro Botticelli was born around 1445 in Florence and took an interest in the arts at a very young age. He was trained as a goldsmith, likely by his older brother, and then became an apprentice at the mere age of fourteen under the master Fra Filippo Lippi. By the year 1470, Botticelli had his own personal workshop in Florence that became his home base for all painting and production. In 1481, he was summoned to Rome by Pope Sixtus IV to be a member of a team, including other Florentine artists Pietro Perugino and Domenico Ghirlandaio, that would be responsible for decorating the walls of the Sistine Chapel with frescoes. Aside from his “Temptations of Christ,” Botticelli was also responsible for having painted the frescoes of the “Punishment of the Rebels” and the “Trials of Moses.” Soon after his work in Rome, Botticelli returned to Florence and created some of his most well-known masterpieces: “Primavera” (c.1482) and “The Birth of Venus” (c. 1485), which were, like much Florentine art of that day, commissioned by members of the Medici family. This was the pinnacle of his career; he only produced a few more notable works and served on some committees within the art community, (such as the committee that decided where Michelangelo’s “David” should be placed), until his death in 1510.
In the Sistine chapel, the wall to the left of Michelangelo’s “The Last Judgement” contains Old Testament frescoes, namely stories within the narrative of Moses. To show a relationship between the Old Testament and the New, the opposite wall has stories from the narrative of Christ that parallel the respective stories of Moses. Botticelli’s “Temptations of Jesus” is directly across from the fresco of the “Trials of Moses.” This suggests a direct relationship with Jesus and Moses. On the opposite wall, Moses is tempted by the trials which he faces in the Exodus and during his time with the Israelites in the wilderness; due to his sin he falls short and often cracks at these trials. On the other hand, Jesus, the perfect fulfillment of Moses as the caregiver of God’s people, resists temptation when it is put in his way as portrayed in the fresco here.
The “Temptations of Christ” depicts multiple occasions in which Jesus is tempted by the devil, found in gospels of both Matthew and Luke. On the left side, the devil (dressed as a monk) tries Jesus by attempting to make him turn stones into bread, thus proving his supernatural power and deity. In the top middle of the fresco, the devil (once again disguised as a monk) tries to convince Jesus to hurl himself off the pinnacle of a temple in order to prove his divinity. Lastly, on the far right of the image Botticelli depicts the scene in which Satan offers Christ all of the kingdoms of the world. This time, Christ throws him off the cliffs, and into the pits of hell where he is confined for eternity. In each scenario, Christ resists the temptation that the devil offers, thus proving himself to be the perfect fulfillment of the Old Testament Law and the one true God.
In the foreground of the picture, a Jewish celebration is taking place. Though it’s open for discussion, it is suggested that the man dressed in blue and gold at the center of the picture is the Old Testament figure of Nehemiah, whose visage may resemble that of Pope Sixtus the IV. Both the Old Testament and current figures are builders, and the building in the middle of the picture could represent one of the architectural renovations of Pope Sixtus. It is also suggested that the two oak trees in the right background are representative of current figures. The barren and underdeveloped tree to the right is said to symbolize the man Guiliano della Rovere, who was elected pope but did not rise full potential in the position of papal power. The flourishing fig tree to the left is said to symbolize Pope Sixtus IV, whose reign proved him to be an “older, more experienced” pope.
This well-preserved fresco was painted in the later period of the Renaissance like its other Sistine Chapel wall companions. For this reason, it bears much of the style and technique that was common in art of the Renaissance period. The use of chiaroscuro darkens the background scenery and really highlights the characters in the fresco, who are dressed in bright and vibrantly colored robes.There is a clear vanishing point in the center of the image, as the figures in the foreground are much larger and than the figures behind them, who gradually go down in size as the distance increases. Atmospheric pressure is also used in the fresco, as light that comes just over the top of the lake in the background seems to come forward and illuminate the rest of the scene.
I like this image for similar reasons that I admire the “Vocation of the Apostles.” I love Botticelli’s ability to combine multiple events into one congruent work, which provides an insightful comparison of the scenes. This draws a direct connection between the successively occurring Biblical stories, and allows us to see them all at once rather than one after another. Botticelli, alongside many of the Florentine painters of his day, has the ability to create art that is beautiful and captivating. Like many other religious paintings, this fresco captures some of the reality of age-old stories and gives a new life to the Biblical passages that it represents.
Doyle. Humanities 300 Lecture.
Santi, Bruno (2001). “Botticelli”. I protagonisti dell’arte italiana. Florence: Scala