|Portrait of a Lady known as Smeralda Bandinelli|
It was a great treat at the V&A this morning to find this Botticelli portrait displayed on an easel - so I could engage eye-to-eye with this Florentine lady. Definitely a stroke of luck: the painting only went on display this morning after being restored and in the next day or two, it's off to Berlin for the opening of this exhibition which reaches London next year. (I love her gauzey summer gown and the delicate shadows of her face.)
Botticelli was completely forgotten for three centuries after his death in 1510, only to be rediscovered by the Pre-Raphaelites. This portrait of Smeralda was bought by Rossetti for £20; he spent a further £4
having it cleaned. He did a bit of retouching, and over the years people have wondered if Smeralda owed her strawberry-blonde hair to Rossetti's penchant for redheads. Apparently, no; she's Botticelli through and through - except maybe for her white cap - and strawberry-blondes are prevalent in that part of Italy.
When I was about 12 or 13, spending my school holidays happily wandering around London on my own, Botticelli's Venus and Mars was far and away my favourite painting in the National Gallery. I'd pay a visit several times each holiday and sit in front of it for ages. (Hence my passionate support for free museums because my pocket money would never have stretched to admission fees.) Now, of course, I can see exactly why this wispy, floaty ideal of beauty so appealed to a child of the Sixties. Not only had Botticelli inspired Isadora Duncan - and the image of Ursula Andress emerging from the sea - but look at Flora's fabulous Ossie Clark dress.