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Jeniffer A.

Harrison
Socio-Historical Analysis
ARTH 351
1
Response to Frederick Anatal’s Florentine Painting and Its Social Background

Fredrick Anatal’s Florentine Painting and Its Social Background discusses the limitations

of formal analysis and introduces the question of how two separate pieces of artworks from the

same city and time frame could be rendered so differently. In exploring this question Anatal

brings to light another system of analysis of art other than the formal analysis such as that

discussed by Heinrich Wölffin in the Principles of Art History.1 Anatal discusses the limited

observation given by formal analysis and answers with a theory of consideration of historical

development, society, class, religion, and additional information.

Anatal admittedly suggests that in considering the historical records there are numerous

avenues of information and a significant amount of influences that may affect a single work of

art. He does however suggest that the structure of society and the relation between the classes is

a strong clue to the analysis of artwork. Even though he had a somewhat “Marxist” philosophy,

his points are valid in the consideration of the totality of understanding artwork as it is to a

certain extent a reflection of the society and times in which it was created. Inclusive in the

consideration of social influence and class are religion and politics, which in many cases go hand

in hand. Anatal makes clear his impression of the influence of religion when he stated “In my

opinion, philosophy and literature, to which alone art history usually has recourse in explaining

the art of a period, are much less important in this respect than religious sentiment, and should be

regarded in the light of interesting parallel phenomena.”2 Even though the scope Anatal’s article

was focused on two pieces of artwork in Florence during 1425 and 1426 CE, his observations

1
W. Eugene Kleinbauer, Modern Perspectives in Western Art History, An Anthology of
Twentieth-Century Writings on the Visual Arts (Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto
Press), 156-157.
2
Fredrick Anatal, Florentine Painting and Its Social Background (London), 5.
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have more far reaching implications in the study of art history. Anatal’s conclusion that “When

we have gained an understanding of several viewpoints we shall be able, in the chapters on art, to

associate each style with the conception of life corresponding to it.”3 is a perfectly valid point

and should be considered in the overall history of art. It is therefore plausible to assume that the

society, class, religion, and political arena of artists ultimately affect the style of the same

subjects in works of art from the same region and era.

In analyzing Botticelli’s paintings it is apparent that factors such as patron, religion, and

politics played a large role in the art he produced. Evidence to this fact can be ascertained when

considering these same factors in the comparison of Primavera and The Mystic Nativity. The

religious and political climate of Florence during the time Primavera was painted was under the

influence of the Medici family. Lorenzo de Medici, a Humanist and avid patron, had a

significant impact on Botticelli. Primavera portrayed the gods in Florentine dress rather than

their usually costume.4 The expulsion of the Medici family from Florence and changes in

political climate soon brought into question this portrayal of Florentines’ and Botticelli’s

paintings soon changed in content and style.

To a great extent the changes in Botticelli’s work may be attributed to Savonarola, a

Dominican friar who came into popularity in the late 1400’s. Savonarola’s themes of resolution

of divine merits were soon used as propaganda for political reform as well as social reform in

Florence. Savonarola’s dynamic preaching style soon had an impact over many of the artists in

Florence, namely Botticelli. Savonarola’s theories concerning Florence and their influence on

Botticelli became rather apparent in Botticelli’s The Mystic Nativity. Much of the content and

3
Fredrick Anatal, Florentine Painting and Its Social Background (London), 6.
4
Charles Dempsey, Botticelli, Sandro {Filipepei, Alessando (di Mariano di Vanni)}, Oxford
Art Online, 2008, http://oxfordartonline.com:80/subscriber/article/grove/art/T010385, 28 August
2008.
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Socio-Historical Analysis
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form of this painting are a direct reflection of the sermon given by Savonarola in 1493 on the eve

of Christmas.5 It is apparent by the content and religious zeal of The Mystic Nativity that

Botticelli was impacted by the external factors and ideologies of religion and politics

surrounding him both at the time he rendered Primavera and during the time he rendered later

works such as The Mystic Nativity.

Overall, Fredrick Anatal’s Florentine Painting and Its Social Background contributes a

great deal to the Art Historian community. Anatal shed light on the necessity of consideration of

external factors regarding the rendering of works of art. Additionally, he offered another

perspective in ascertaining the meaning, content, and form of those works. His theories alone are

not conclusive in the understanding of artwork, however when combined with other information

such as that of Wölffin’s formal analysis a greater perceptive may be achieved.

5
Rab Hatfield, “Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity, Savonarola and the Millennium”, Journal of the
Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 58 (1995): 89.
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Bibliography

Anatal, Fredrick. Florentine Painting and Its Social Background (London).

Dempsey, Charles. Botticelli, Sandro {Filipepei, Alessando (di Mariano di Vanni)}, Oxford Art
Online, 2008, http://oxfordartonline.com:80/subscriber/article/grove/art/T010385, 28
August 2008.

Hatfield, Rab. “Botticelli’s Mystic Nativity, Savonarola and the Millennium”, Journal of the
Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 58 (1995).

Kleinbauer, W. Eugene. Modern Perspectives in Western Art History, An Anthology of


Twentieth-Century Writings on the Visual Arts (Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of
Toronto Press).