Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection

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Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection
The Courtauld Gallery, 18 February – 15 May 2016

In collaboration with the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin, The Courtauld Gallery presents ‘Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection’
The exhibition brings back to the UK treasures sensationally sold to Berlin in 1882 by the 12th Duke of Hamilton, including Botticelli’s drawings for Dante’s epic poem, the ‘Divine Comedy’
At the heart of the exhibition are a selection of no less than thirty exquisite drawings by Botticelli charting Dante’s imaginary journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise
The display will also feature priceless illuminated manuscripts including the celebrated ‘Hamilton Bible’, shown in the UK for first time since 1882
The exhibition runs from 18 February – 15 May 2016
The press preview is on Wednesday 17 February from 9:00 – 11:00 at The Courtauld Gallery

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??In 1882 the Berlin Kupferstichkabinett (Prints and Drawings Museum) acquired, from the collection of the Duke of Hamilton, Sandro Botticelli’s spectacular series of drawings illustrating scenes from Dante’s epic poem, the Divine Comedy. It also purchased nearly all the items in the Duke’s priceless collection of illuminated manuscripts. The Berlin museum pulled off this sensational coup despite efforts by Queen Victoria and her daughter, wife of the German crown prince, to prevent the loss of these treasures abroad.

Organised in collaboration with the Kupferstichkabinett, this exhibition brings back to the United Kingdom some of the greatest of the former Hamilton treasures, including no less than thirty of Botticelli’s exquisite Dante drawings. The drawings will be accompanied by an extraordinary selection of illuminated manuscripts, many from the time of Botticelli. These include the monumental ‘Hamilton Bible’. Acknowledged to be one of the most important illuminated manuscripts in the world, this splendid princely volume is depicted in Raphael’s portrait of Pope Leo X (now in the Uzzifi Gallery, Florence). The Hamilton Bible has never returned to the United Kingdom since the 1882 sale.

Dated to around 1480-95 and drawn on vellum, Botticelli’s Dante drawings are very rarely exhibited or lent. This is an exceptional opportunity for audiences in the United Kingdom to see a representative collection of the great Renaissance master’s interpretation of one of the canonical texts of world literature. Ten drawings will be included from each of the three parts of the Divine Comedy, charting Dante’s imaginary journey through Hell, Purgatory and Paradise.

In the first two realms Dante is guided by the Roman poet Virgil. The selected drawings vividly describe their encounters with various sinners ingeniously tormented in the different circles of hell: moneylenders, corrupt clergy, sorcerers and soothsayers, evil counsellors and others. This section concludes with the celebrated double-size drawing of Lucifer, depicted in full length eating the souls of three arch-traitors. Virgil and Dante clamber along his shaggy flanks to reach Purgatory, the transitional realm of spiritual purification. Amongst those performing penance before entering Paradise are proud artists, negligent rulers and the gluttonous. In the realm of Paradise, it is the radiant Beatrice, whom Dante loved in his youth, who guides the poet through the celestial spheres. These concluding visionary passages of Dante’s text are brought to life in some of Botticelli’s most spell-bindingly beautiful drawings.

Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen, Head of The Courtauld Gallery, says: “We are delighted to be working with the Kupferstichkabinett and deeply honoured to have been entrusted with this exceptional group of works.”

The Courtauld Gallery’s own collection includes Botticelli’s little-known large altarpiece of The Holy Trinity with John the Baptist and Mary Magdalene, dated to the same years as the final drawings of the Dante series.

Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection is organised in partnership with the Kupferstichkabinett and will be shown in Berlin from 16 October 2015 to 24 January 2016. It will coincide in London with Botticelli Reimagined at the V&A from 5 March to 3 July 2016. Also at The Courtauld Gallery: Bruegel in Black and White: Three Grisailles Reunited, 4 February to 8 May 2016.

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