Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510)

For my History of Art class we were asked to present some works of an important painter of our choice. I chose Botticelli, of course. I’m in love with Botticelli’s Birth of Venus from the moment I saw it. You can find the presentation here without the explanations but high quality detail images.

The artist was born as Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi in Florence but used Sandro Botticelli as short. When he was young he was training to become a goldsmith with his brother but later on he quit his trainee-ship there. This reminded me of the architect of the previous generation in Florence, Brunelleschi who was a trained goldsmith as well. When Botticelli decided to become an artist he studied in Fra Filippo Lippi’s (also known as Lippo Lippi) workshops with Lippo Lippi as his “maestro”. This tradition was very important in the Renaissance. The aspiring artists would work in the workshops of big artists of the time until they are the bigger artists… 

Botticelli can said to be influenced by his maestro Lippi and his fellow Florentine Verrocchio who was also Leonardo da Vinci’s tutor. Here are some examples of the artists in case you want to look for similarities. But we know that Botticelli solved compositional problems his maestro couldn’t.

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Verrocchio’s Baptism of Christ is said to be completed with Leonardo da Vinci.
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Lippi’s Balbadori Altarpiece

Botticelli’s artworks depicting ancient myths are something else, in my opinion He also worked on biblical pieces. Because the rich was requesting paintings telling the stories from the Bible for their palaces at the time and commissioning artists to paint them. Botticelli usually painted his works using pastel tones. Like many artists he had anxiety problems that almost drove him mad. His mental illness contributed to his art’s uniqueness. He created very lyrical figures. He was obsessed with elegance and beauty. This led to his poetic and unique style. The figures are slender with long necks and they move or stand so light and elegantly.

I suggest listening to this piece of music before, while or after seeing La Primavera. (Mixing other artistic expressions with the painting might be very much debatable but I thought of this music when I saw the painting so listen anytime to compare).

La Primavera (Allegory of Spring), 1492

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La primavera means “spring” in Italian. The painting was rather surprising in its time because it depicts an ancient scene. The figure in the middle is Venus. She strikes us with the orange piece of fabric she carries. Venus is Roman goddess of beauty and love (Aphrodite in Greek mythology). She is also the symbol of youth, revival, fertility and inevitably the spring. The painting shows Venus’s Garden in spring.

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A detail of Venus’s face

The painting has a very interesting quality. Some figures are not in touch with others and very separate. They stand and move in many different ways. Still, even though they are somewhat isolated and apart, the painting creates a very harmonious whole.

On Venus’s right we see the flower goddess of Rome: Flora. She carries flowers in her skirt and the roses on her lap are the symbols of Venus. The painting has almost 500 actual illustrations of existing flower kinds.

On Flora’s right is  a nymph: Chloris. And the figure over Chloris is Zephyr, the god of the west wind. Zephyr is the only wind that can enter Venus’s garden. According to the ancient story, he chases Chloris around and wants to rape her. In the end they get married and live in the endless spring. This chase is shown in the painting and at this moment, instead of screams; the symbols of spring, flowers, come out of Chloris’s mouth.

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On Venus’s left we see the Three Graces. They are frequently mentioned in Greek and Roman myths. The three beautiful, dancing girls accompany Venus. The in the middle has turned her back to Chloris and Zephyrs’s lust-filled love. She disapproves of them. But she is unaware that the Cupid above her is about to hit her with his arrow.

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The winged kid above Venus is Venus’s son, god of love, Cupid. The arrow will hit the one in the middle of Three Graces and she will fall in love and get married.

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Cupid was rarely shown with his eyes folded. This puts an emphasis on the saying “love is blind”.

This also draws our attention to the secret message of marriage in the painting. Because it was probably requested for the marriage of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici.

The last male figure at the left is the messenger god, Mercure (Hermes in Greek). He is clearing the sky of clouds by pushing them with his symbolic winged sceptre. Because there is no place for clouds in Venus’s garden. This figure was probably inspired by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici (second cousin of Lorenzo el Magnifico).

The Birth of Venus, 1485

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This painting was also requested for the villa of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici.

Venus, in the Birth of Venus is so beautiful that we don’t even realize her unnaturally long neck, her hanging shoulders and the weird way her arms are attached to her body. To gain elegance in the lines, Botticelli freed himself from the exacts of nature and this led us to see Venus as a gift from the sky, pushed lightly by the waves to our shores. A soft and elegant creature…(from Gombrich’s The Story of Art)

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The painting tells the story of Poliziano’s Poem about the birth of Venus. The Greek myth of Aphrodite is as follows: Kronos (father of Zeus), in order to become the ruler of all Gods, cuts his own father’s genitalia and throws it in the Mediterranean sea. Due to the fall of the organ, sea foams are formed and out of these sea-foams Aphrodite is born.

aphros (Greek) = foam

Aphrodite travels in a golden seashell and arrives in a coast of Cyprus. On the left is the familiar couple Zephyr and Chloris blowing the west wind to make sure Venus makes it to the shore. With this wind roses are scattered. As the myth goes the roses first start to bloom when Venus is born, so they are her symbol.

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On the shore, a Hora of Spring is approaching on the tips of her toes, in a graceful dancing motion, spreading out a magnificent cloak for her. Venus rises with her marble-colored carnations above the ocean next to her, like a statue. Her hair, which is playfully fluttering around her face in the wind, is given a particularly fine sheen by the use of fine golden strokes.

The stance of Venus is called “Modest Venus” in classical sculptures. Covering her breasts with her hand and her genitalia with her hair.

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The goddess of love, one of the first non-biblical female nudes in Italian art, is depicted in accordance with the classical Venus pudica. She is, however, as little a precise copy of her prototype as the painting is an exact illustration of Poliziano’s poetry. The group comprising Venus and the Hora of spring demonstrates Botticelli’s flexible use of Christian means of depiction.

Botticelli wanted to combine Antiquity and his time, 15th century, just like other renaissance artists. He wanted to show the beauties of pagan times and symbolized the goodness of those times while also creating the belief that Christianity will bring a goodness of its own. He used the gold holy light and showed reflections on the shell, the trees and the clothes. This might have been his way of combining both religion’s symbols.

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