I’m sure you recognize this one, as it’s one of the most revered paintings in history! This is Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus.
It was painted between 1482 and 1485 in Tuscany and now resides in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It is significant now for various reasons, but didn’t rise to fame until several centuries after its completion.
The Birth of Venus depicts the goddess of love, Venus, born fully grown in the ocean and arriving to the shore on a shell. She is being blown into shore by the god of the west wind, Zephyr, and while she stands demurely and shyly covers herself, a goddess of the seasons/handmaiden (Ora) is waiting to clothe her as she arrives on land. The figure with Zephyr is either a nymph of the wind or goddess of spring and blossoming flowers.
The story portrayed is believed to be based on a poetic work by Agnolo Poliziano, a friend of Botticelli’s and a court poet of the Medici’s, that depicts the very same scene of Venus being born and brought ashore.
This work was commissioned by the Medici family, and meant to be hung above a marital bed. The stark nudity and the intention of the painting’s placement made it quite scandalous and was hidden from the public for nearly fifty years. A “companion” piece was commissioned at the same time called The Allegory of Spring or La Primavera which depicts Venus again in the center as a benevolent force protecting men, joined on the left by three Graces dancing and Mercury dissipating clouds, and on the right by Zephyr using a breath to turn Flora into Spring (the woman scattering flowers). This piece also was painted by Botticelli and also is now displayed at the Uffizi Gallery.
The scene of The Birth of Venus is overall very balanced and peaceful. The colors and fluidity of lines, curves, and other elements create a sense of calm, but also keep the viewer’s eye entertained and moving across the composition.
As far as technical advances, this is the first example in Tuscany of a painting being done on canvas, as wooden surfaces were the norm for this time period. This is significant because canvas offered a lighter more transportable surface to work on that wouldn’t warp with time, but was usually thought of as the cheap and more inferior alternative until great artists started using them and making just as good work as they had on wood.
In its day and still today, it is thought to be a landmark of beauty and an example of the beauty standards of the time. The pair of paintings together were thought to have been intended to portray how “love triumphs over brutality.”
Another important piece to point out is the sculpture interpretation of The Birth of Venus, known as the Medici Venus, also residing in the Uffizi Gallery.
Hope you enjoyed this tidbit of trivia, have a great week!