Detail, The birth of Venus, c 1484, Tempera on wood.  Ufizzi Gallery Florence

Detail, Primavera, c 1482, Grease tempera on wood.  Ufizzi Gallery Florence

St Ambrose Alterpiece (or of the Converted Sisters),
1467-70, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence


The work was thought to have been originally housed in the Benedictine Monastery of St Ambrose. There is however an anomaly, neither St Ambrose nor any of the other Benedictine patron saints are pictured, rather Cosmas and Damian, saints traditionally associated with the Medici kneel at the feet of the Madonna. Also portrayed in the work are Mary Magdalen, John the Baptist, St Francis and St Catherine of Alexandria. The presence of St Francis suggests that it may be the Botticelli panel Vasari saw in the church of San Francesco in Montevarchi in the 16th century.

The painting is also known as Of the Converted Sisters) as it was believed to have originated from the alterpiece of that convent, but since disproved.

This is the first known alterpiece by Botticelli and it shows the influence of his teacher Lippi and Verrocchio (once again for the metallic quality of the clothing). He became Botticelli's master in 1467 which would tally nicely with the proposed dates for the work.

(Text adapted from Gloria Fossi, Uffizi Gallery: The Official Guide, all of the works, 1999)