(b. 1445, Firenze, d. 1510, Firenze)

Coronation of the Virgin (San Marco Altarpiece)

Tempera on panel, 378 x 258 cm
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence

Botticelli painted this altarpiece, which is the largest of those works still in existence and which was created for the church of the Dominican monastery of San Marco in Florence. The guild of goldsmiths, which was responsible for the maintenance and decoration of this church, ordered the altar for their own chapel. It was dedicated to their patron saint Eligius. The lavish use of the expensive gold paint was probably due to the identity of the clients, who wanted to make a sumptuous display of their profession. The gold background in the upper part of the painting marks the dividing line between the heavenly and earthly spheres. Nonetheless, both worlds meet within the confines of a single picture, something which was extremely unusual in the painting of the age.

The four saints - John the Evangelist, the Fathers of the Church St. Augustine and St. Jerome, and St. Eligius - are standing in a semicircle on a meadow. Behind them, on either side of a lake, is an extensive landscape. As is typical of Botticelli's economical and schematic composition, it is merely a decorative addition to the monumental figures. The coronation of the Virgin in a glory of seraphs and cherubs is all the more lavish. God the Father and the Virgin are enthroned on an airy carpet of clouds, setting them apart from the dancing groups of angels. Two artistic qualities become clear in this heavenly scene: Botticelli's exceptional feeling for the ornamental structuring of forms and his artistic inventiveness. He fits the heavenly aureole into the semicircular top of the picture, which reflects the domed architecture of the Eligius Chapel. He playfully groups the whirlwind round dance of the angels about the heavenly scene and this creates an illusion of depth.