Fernando Botero's rigorous artistic training included his many visits to museums and art galleries in cities such as Madrid, Barcelona, Paris and the birthplace of the Renaissance--Florence. There, Botero was determined to study the ancient and painstaking undertaking of fresco painting. During the day he attended the Accademia San Marco and at night he painted canvases inspired by the wealth of masterpieces he encountered daily. His canvases from the period pay tribute to such greats as Giotto, Andrea Mantegna and Piero della Francesca to name a few. In the churches, monasteries and exhibitions held at spaces such as the Palazzo Strozzi and the lectures he attended at the Università degli Studi di Firenze, Botero's obsession with the Quatrocentto intensified. Fortified by and enthused with the rich Florentine legacy, the artist created numerous compositions that both pay tribute to the Renaissance masters and showcase his own invention and bright wit. The Italian masters were consumed with form--the dimensions of bodies and objects in space--and that became ultimately his dedication--mass and volume. "What fascinates me about Italian art is that through the approach that they had it was possible to give color and form equal importance," Botero has commented; this tenet has been at the center of his oeuvre.(1)
Botero's rendition of the life of St. Zenobius or La vida de San Zenobio pays homage to the Renaissance masters who also illustrated the bishop's miracles--Domenico Ghirlandio and Sandro Botticelli among others. Florence's myriad altarpieces provided Botero with endless opportunities to express his innovative ideas and re-invent legends and anecdotes about saints. Particularly attractive were the major altarpieces commissioned by the great merchant princes such as the Medici among many. Based on these religious works, the artist made a series of predella paintings, so called because they resemble the small paintings which are part of large altarpieces. Botero dramatized the lives and deeds of saints such as St. Hilarion (lot 34) and St. Zenobius, who was born in Florence, became a bishop during the reign of the Emperor Constantine and is credited with extraordinary miracles including raising the dead.
Secular and spiritual worlds collide in the continuous narrative illustrating legendary miraculous feats in the saintly bishop's life--symbols such as the flowering elm tree that sprang to life when it was touched by the saint's bier and a modern day young woman who suffers stab wounds from a possible lover in a rage of passion. In typical flair for whimsy--the Colombian master has deftly integrated iconography pertaining to his own heritage--the little flag in brilliant hues of yellow, blue and red on the left side of the waves proudly.
1) Exhibition catalogue, Fernando Botero,Washington, D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1979, p. 13.