The painting is one of the later works the painter. After the death of Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1492 and the sermons of Savonarola in the city, Botticelli abandoned his beloved neoplatonistic themes. In fact, Calumnia is traditionally known as a turning point in his career that showed mystic and more spiritual side of the painter, who since then only painted certain religious themes.
His design became more plastic with strong contrasts of light and shadows, expressions, poses and attitudes of his most dramatic and pathetic characters.
The subject of the panel is old and it goes back to De Calumnia of Luciano di Samosata (2nd century AD) and then to De Pictura (1436) of Leon Battista Alberti who described the famous episode of Apelles painting his work to defend himself against defamatory accusations of another painter who slanders him.
The iconography of the scene is complex and influenced by the Neoplatonic Academy of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
The painting represents faithfully the episode narrated by Luciano, which Botticelli painted inside a richly decorated marble room. The columns are decorated with ancient mythical figures, such as Judith with the head of Holofernes behind the throne, symbolizing justice and the knight figure in the center probably represents King David.
There are many characters in the scene. On the right there is King Midas sitting on a throne with crown and donkey ears, Ignorance and Suspicion by his side telling him what to do. In front of him there is a group of people. The man dressed in rags and turning his head to Midas is Envy, holding the hand of Slander. She is a beautiful young woman with blue robe, dragging by hair a desperate young man. With the other hand she holds an unlit torch. Two young women, Fraud and Conspiracy, are styling her hair. Behind them there’s an old woman, representing Remorse and a young naked woman holding up her arm, Nuda Veritas or the Truth, the only source of justice.
The dramatic scene is full of movement and agitated characters, like Envy who, with his extended arm and hood, resembles Savonarola and his inquisitorial sermons. The clothes and the hair of the characters seem to be in motion, while the colors are brilliant and bright.
In the 1550s’ Vasari wrote that Botticelli donated the work to his friend Antonio Segni.
The panel passed then to Rodolfo Sirigatti’s collection, who then gave it to Bianca Cappello, maybe together with the Botticelli’s diptych of Judith and Holofernes. Antonio de’ Medici inherited his mother’s works and added them to the Grand Ducal collections. In 1773 the painting was moved from Palazzo Pitti to the Uffizi Gallery.
Botticelli was born in 1445 in Florence, where he studied with Filippo Lippi with whom he painted the frescoes of Prato cathedral.
He painted many versions of Madonna and Child, which have very similar style to Filippo Lippi, even though after meeting Andrea del Verrocchio and Antonio Pollaiolo he changed his artistic views.
In the 1470s’ he began to work independently and attended the Neoplatonic academy, which put him in contact with Agnolo Poliziano, Marsilio Ficino and the Medici family. He became soon one of the favorites of Lorenzo the Magnificent and brother Giuliano, who commissioned a portrait of himself in 1478. Botticelli became a faithful interpret of the modern Florentine society and culture and his elegant and sophisticated paintings represented the ideal neoplatonic and harmonic beauty of the time. His graceful Madonnas, elegant portraits of the women loved by the Medici family and praised by the literature of the time, charismatic mythological and biblical characters are still today a symbol of the first Florentine renaissance.
In this golden era Botticelli illustrated the Divine Comedy commented by Cristoforo Landino and painted the frescoes Temptations of Christ (1481) in the Sistine Chapel in Rome.
In Florence he painted religious subjects, the Venuses, the Primavera and mythological themes like Pallas and the Centaur, Venus and Mars, which often hide complex allegories with philosophical meanings.
The death of Lorenzo the Magnificent in 1492 and the expulsion of the Medici family after the conflict with Savonarola and Piagnoni influenced Botticelli’s life. His art was marked by earthly beauty and spiritual purity and in his later career he abandoned pagan myths and concentrated on religious art.
Botticelli died in Florence in 1510.
The Uffizi gallery was established in 1560 when Cosimo I Medici, the Duke of Tuscany, wanted to put together the Florentine offices and magistrates (hence the name uffici, offices) in a single building, to have a better control over them.
The work was entrusted to Giorgio Vasari and the construction started the following year. The building was designed in U-shape, consisting of a long east wing, a short corridor overlooking the Arno river and a short west wing, forming classic pattern of a Tuscan loggia. The entrance of the gallery is situated right next to Palazzo Vecchio, the house of the dukes.
The first museological exhibition was organized by Francesco I, the Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1574 to 1587. Thanks to the architect Buontalenti and the initiative of Ferdinand II, the gallery became a representation site, decorated by Antonio Tempesta, where the artworks were conserved as well as the series of the portraits of the Illustrious Men which were placed next to the portraits of the Medici family.
The overall space consists of 8000 square meters and forty-five rooms, all in the third floor, where the art collection includes some of the greatest masterpieces of Italian and European art, such as Giotto’s Maestà di Ognissanti, Simone Martini’s Trinity, the altarpieces of Duccio, Gentile da Fabriano and Mantegna, the Annunciation and Adoration of the Magi by Leonardo Da Vinci, many works of Botticelli, among them the Venus and the Spring, Raphael’s Madonna della Seggiola and Madonna of the Goldfinch, Tiitan’s Venus of Urbino, Caravaggio’s Bacchus and Rubens’s Triumph of Henry IV.
Ferdinand II wanted to add other rooms in the gallery: the room of Mathematics, a terrace and the armory. Between 1696 and 1699 the Grand Duke Cosimo III ordered the decoration of the corridor overlooking the Arno river with frescoes of religious subjects and he sent to Florence some of the most famous examples of ancient statues conserved in Villa Medici of Rome. In this occasion was built the Sala della Niobe, where the ancient sculptures were placed. Other self-portraits of ancient and contemporary painters were acquired and placed in the Vasari Corridor. Cardinal Leopoldo de Medici added to Uffizi his collection of graphic art and created the cabinet nowadays known as the department of drawings and prints.
After the extinction of the house of Medici due to lack of heirs, in 1737 Anna Maria Luisa de Medici donated the treasures of the Uffizi gallery to the city of Florence, so that the collection would always stay where it was created. In 1769 the Grand Duke Pietro Leopoldo opens the gallery to the public. In the 1770s’ Uffizi was seen as a advantaged laboratory for the studies of art history and for preparation of art, thanks to the work of Luigi di Lanzi and Giuseppe Pelli Bencivenni.
During the Kingdom of Italy, the renaissance statues were moved to the new museum of Bargello and the gallery was gradually taking the function of Pinacoteca. More and more visitors came, and the magistrates were transformed to public archives.
In 1900 the gallery acquired the painting collection of the Arcispedale of Santa Maria Nuova, including artworks such as the Portinari Triptych of Hugo van der Goes, from the church of Sant’Edigio. In the beginning of the 20th century the gallery reinforced the collection by acquiring many works of the 14th and 15th centuries from churches and other religious institutes, which were still absent in the museums historical framework.
The first renovation of Uffizi’s rooms dates back to 1956, when the architects Giovanni Michelucci, Carlo Scarpa and Ignazio Gardella renewed the rooms with light tones of colors that highlight the wooden ceiling. In 1969 the gallery purchased the collection of Contini Bonacossi including Giovanni Bellini’s St. Jerome, Cima da Conegliano’s St. Jerome, Francesco Francia’s St. Francis, Savoldo’s Mary Magdalene, Tintoretto’s canvases and Velazquez’s Waterseller of Seville and Portrait of Philip IV of Spain.
In 2006 the Uffizi galleries started the architectural restoration work, adjustments of the implantation and new layouts for the rooms. The museum remained always open and with the reform of the Italian museum system in 2014 the museums of Palazzo Pitti and Boboli Gardens were joined to the Uffizi.