|Wikipedia image here|
Even Nerdy History Girls take artistic liberties. This is in addition to unfortunate accidental liberties—because, as I’ve said many times, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
In the case of the Botticelli Mars and Venus, initial sleuthing showed me that it would not have been hanging in the British Institution in 1835. But this painting, which kicks off Vixen in Velvet, was in my mind early in the book’s creation, and nothing else would do. And then, as I dug a little deeper, it turned into one of those tantalizing historical mysteries.
You’d think, for instance, the subject matter would be obvious, but it wasn’t, as I soon discovered:
“This long narrow panel was probably originally intended to adorn the top of a doorway in one of the Medici palaces or villas, and remained in Florence until it came to England in the Barker collection some fifty years ago.* At the sale of that collection, in 1874, it was bought by the trustees of the National Gallery, acting under the advice of the newly- appointed director, Sir Frederic Burton.”
If you read the rest of the entry, you’ll discover the alternative interpretation of the subject matter.
But who was Barker? Another mystery. Barker is a common enough name, and I didn’t know his first name. So imagine my excitement to find news of the sale to the National Gallery:
|Read at source here|
“June 13, 1874
“Sandro Botticelli was well represented, especially by a beautiful series from Boccacio, for which Mr Barker paid 4,000l., but only two examples were purchased by Mr Burton—viz. the Mars and Venus Reclining with Cupids, and the Venus Reclining with three Amorini pelting her with Roses, the prices respectively being 1,050l. and 1627l.10s. These were the last lots purchased for the nation.”
By this time, apparently, Botticelli was coming back into fashion. Mr. Barker might well have bought his works when they weren’t such hot commodities. This would explain why he lent other paintings to exhibitions, but not, apparently, the Botticellis. I wonder if that explains why the work isn’t mentioned here, in the Collection of Pictures Belonging to Alexander Barker, Esq. (Gustav Friedrich Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain 1854)
I’m not an art historian, and there’s a limited amount of time I can spend on peripheral research—so I hope some of our historical experts can tell us more about the intriguing Mr. Barker.