Exploring the Birth of Venus Painting by Botticelli
The painting known as Birth of Venus is one most iconic scenes in history and is well-loved by art enthusiasts worldwide. Read on to discover more about the painting and its origins.
Sandro Botticelli, born in 1445, was a renowned Italian painter working during the Early Renaissance. Throughout his career, he painted numerous masterpieces depicting secular and religious subjects, including work on the Sistine Chapel. His popularity waned after his death until the Pre-Raphaelite movement rediscovered his work in the 1800s. The Royal Academy calls Botticelli "the father of modern, secular book illustration" for his work illustrating Dante's Divine Comedy. For this project, Botticelli produced almost 100 illustrations on vellum using metalpoint and pen and ink.
What Does Birth of Venus Depict?
Birth of Venus is a romanticised, idealised version of the birth of the Roman goddess of love, fertility and sexuality (known in Greek mythology as Aphrodite). She emerges from the sea foam on top of a sea shell with her hair gently cascading over her shoulders. Botticelli's depiction of Venus was a representation of the ideal notion of a woman's beauty in Renaissance times which includes:
''...blonde hair, rosy lips, a pale, hairless skin, white teeth and small breasts.'' - via Leiden Medievalists Blog
The myth says the wind guided Venus towards the shore. This is represented by the winged figures on the left. The male figure wrapped in a blue garment is Zephyrus, god of the west wind and messenger of spring. Some historians believe the female figure he holds is Aura, a lesser wind spirit. You can see the wind moving Venus' hair and the hair and clothes of the female figure on the right, waiting on the shore, poised to clothe Venus with a garment when she arrives. This character is an attendant of Venus and believed to be either one of the Graces or a member of the Horae, minor goddesses who represent seasons.
The painting is full of visual references to the goddess. For example, the sea shell she stands on symbolises female sexuality. Another associated symbol is a rose; hence, the plump pink roses wrapped around her attendant's waist and floating in the breeze. The myrtle shrub is another symbol of Venus, and is worn in a wreath around the neck of her attendant.
Who Commissioned Birth of Venus?
Some historians believe this painting was commissioned by a member of the prominent Medici family, who also owned the Venus de Medici, an ancient statue of Venus that strikes a similar pose to Botticelli's Venus. The gold-tipped orange blossom trees are another nod to the Medicis, as the orange tree was a familial emblem. Today, the painting hangs in the Uffizi gallery in Florence, a building commissioned initially by a Medici in the 16th century.
What is the Relationship Between Birth of Venus and Primavera?
Botticelli's Primavera and Birth of Venus masterpieces depict distinct stages in the life of the goddess of love and were intended to be hung together. The precise meaning of the paintings is debated, but experts agree they represent the progression of fertility in the world.
In Birth of Venus, the goddess is portrayed as a newly created entity, gracefully descending from the heavens to fertilise the earth; note that flowers are not prominent in the trees and grass. In Primavera, Venus is presented as the goddess of marriage, modestly dressed and mature, amidst a lavish garden of fruits and flowers. The trees featured in Birth of Venus were sprinkled with subtle orange blossom flowers, but in Primavera, we are transported to an orange grove surrounded by abundant orange fruit, flowers carpeting the ground and over 500 plant species.
Interested in Learning More?
We hope you have enjoyed this brief glimpse into the story behind Birth of Venus. Thank you for reading!
Check out our sources for additional information:
Aphrodite on The OI
The Uffizi Gallery, home of Birth of Venus
The Touch of the Divine at The Royal Academy
The Botanist Historian
Who Was Venus? on ThoughtCo
Birth of Venus on Britannica
Birth of Venus on Wikipedia
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