Image of Beyonce on a horse juxtaposed with Botticelli's Pallas and the Centaur
Photo illustration features detail of Beyoncé's "Renaissance" album cover (photo by Carlijn Jacobs) and Sandro Botticelli's "Pallas and the Centaur," 1482, from the collection of the Uffizi Galleries, Florence.

What does Beyoncé’s “Renaissance” have to do with Botticelli?

By Anna Dilliard //

Renaissance literally means “rebirth.” The term most famously refers to the flowering of arts, culture, and science that began in 1400s Italy, when the idea of humanism (an emphasis on human—versus religious—values) took hold and the culture of patronage flourished. Artists looked to ancient Greek and Roman marbles and myths for inspiration, creating brand-new works based on those older styles and themes. The birthplace of the Italian Renaissance was Florence, and at the heart of Renaissance Florence was artist Sandro Botticelli (1445–1510).

Beyoncé’s seventh studio album, Renaissance, marked a rebirth of sorts for the acclaimed recording artist. The album, she has said, was born out of the isolation and fear she experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic. “I think we are all ready to escape, travel, love, and laugh again. I feel a renaissance emerging, and I want to be part of nurturing that escape in any way possible.”

Like artists of the Italian Renaissance, Beyoncé looked to the past for inspiration. In the liner notes of the album, she thanks the “pioneers who originate culture [and] the fallen angels whose contributions have gone unrecognized for far too long.” Throughout the album, she samples prominent artists of the dance and house music movements, including Ts Madison, Moi Renee, and Big Freedia, yet she makes something wholly new and original.

While Beyoncé has been criticized for sampling the work of others in her music, she’s no thief: many artists before her, including Botticelli and his contemporaries, have made subtle nods to others they admired. Botticelli trained with celebrated artist Fra Filippo Lippi, and evidence of this creative relationship is visible in Botticelli’s early work. His early figures look a lot like Lippi’s, particularly in his modeling of feminine beauty. Other artists have been more brazen. As Picasso reportedly once said, “Bad artists copy. Great artists steal.”

Experience the two Renaissances together in “Beyoncé’s Renaissance: A Listening Experience.” We’ve paired six Renaissance tracks with six works in the exhibition. Each song contains lyrics that give us an entry point into an artwork. Learn about the significance of maenads in ancient Rome while listening to “Move,” and explore the characters in Botticelli’s Adoration of the Magi while Beyoncé sings about her crew in “Energy.” On CultureConnect, you’ll find a link to Mia’s Spotify playlist. Or, if you prefer, find individual Spotify and Apple Music links on each artwork’s page. Grab some headphones and join us at Mia!