Wolfgang Beltracchi, 2018
Artistic voice: Sandro Botticelli, ca. 1502, Florence
Egg tempera and resine-oil colour on canvas, 93 x 73,5 cm

»Since ancient times, the southern hemisphere was considered inaccessible to European travelers. The conviction at the time was that at the equator the ocean was boiling impenetrably. The southernmost starry sky therefore eternally eluded human understanding. It was only in the literary imagination that it shone. In his “Divine Comedy”, Dante Alighieri, led by his companion Vergil, reaches the edges of the world. In the very south they both see a striking constellation, often identified as the “Southern Cross”. Remarkably, Dante’s vision, written around 1310, preempts the later first sighting of the “Southern Cross” by a European. Dante’s fellow countryman Amerigo Vespucci probably made this achievement on his trip to South America in 1499. Vespucci could have told his Florentine employer Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici about the concordance of Dante’s report and the actual star constellation. Sandro Botticelli, whom Lorenzo frequently commissioned to pain, could then have united the two elements in a painting: the old, literary vision of the national poet and the modern confirmation by the seafarer, as a phenomenon of the turn of the century around 1500, which for the first time allowed European trade access to the complete “experienceability” of the world.«

Dr. Thomas Eser, Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg

In the first song of Purgatory, Dante describes a constellation of four stars in the southern sky as a literary invention. Amerigo Vespucci reported the astronomical observations he made on the American coast in letters to his patron Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici. He also described a constellation reminiscent of Dante’s fiction: today’s “Southern Cross”. For Botticelli, Lorenzo was an important client, for whom he illustrated the “Divine Comedy” on parchment. This tempera painting honours the great Florentine personages: Vespucci’s Southern Cross is resplendent above Dante’s Mount Purgatory.