Sandro Botticelli


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Botticelli – the Birth of Venus

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Alessandro Filipepi (1445-1510), known as Sandro Botticelli, Florentine, was the painter most linked to the intellectual environment of Lorenzo the Magnificent. He trained as a goldsmith and followed an apprenticeship in Filippo Lippi and Andrea del Verrocchio workshop, from whom he inherited the delicate colours and the soft linearity of the contours. Then, from 1475 he started working autonomously for the Medici, frequenting his court.

For this environment he carried out the mythological paintings, works of highly cultural subjects, among them the Primavera (Allegory of Spring), The Birth of Venus and Venus and Mars all of them part of a series of paintings dedicated to the myth of Venus, inspired by works of classic poets as Ovid and characterized by a balanced and elegant style.

In The Birth of Venus, a canvas of great dimensions painted between 1484 and 1485 after a stay in Rome, the sophisticated beauty ideals from the Neoplatonism take shape, for which the exterior perfection was the expression of the interior one, as expressed by the philosopher Marsilio Ficino, founder of the Neoplatonism.
Venus, emerging from the sea, reaches the island of Cyprus on a seashell blown by the wind Zephyrus and the breeze Aura and is welcomed by one of the Horae, the nymphs that preside over the seasons, who offers her a floral cloak to cover herself.

 

Farnese cup. Piatto da libagione ellenistico. II-I sec. a. C. Scultura e cammeo
in agata sardonica.  Napoli, Museo Archeologico Nazionale.

 

Apart from the classic sources (i.e. the Farnese Cup, which was part of Lorenzo the Magnificent collection and from which the painter captures the wind figures), Botticelli got inspiration from the poem Stanze per la Giostra from Politian, where an imaginary relief is described with an analogue subject.

The unmistakable melancholic expression on the face of the goddess characterizes all the female figures of Botticelli. Here she is represented as the pure classic Venus, the incarnation of the Humanitas (Humanity): the spiritual aspect and rationality of the mind, and the sublime love, symbol of the purity of the soul.

These ideals are expressed through:
• The pearly colours with impalpable shades, very soft, light, bright, transparent and cold;
• The misty shades, transparent, hardly perceivable;
• The linearism, evident in the figures profile, in the ripple waves and in the sinuosity of the drapery and hair.
• The shapes, perfect, pure, idealized, specially Venus bare midriff.
• Botticelli’s figures have a very particular beauty: they are cold, perfect. It is an ideal beauty, out of reality and measure of senses and refers to the Neoplatonic aesthetics of Marsilio Ficino.
• Focused on the allegoric and philosophic purpose, and on reaching a refined and abstract shape that could express it, Botticelli actually was never really interested in the spatial organization in the perspective sense and in the volume of the figures.
That is why they appear evanescent and almost “cut out” on a two-dimensional background. Botticelli manages to express the body weight with minimum matter, lightening up the plastic elements and achieving the maximum purity of shapes without completely removing the mass.
These effects are obtained by giving the maximum autonomy possible to all the elements of the composition. The colours are unreal, the shapes are idealized and abstract, the lines move freely, increasing the dynamism of the figures and making them lighter.
The fascination of Botticelli’s work is exactly this sense of detachment, this moving away from the senses, and at the same time, attracting the good taste and the intellect.

• In those days, the canvas was still little known as a material, and maybe here it was used in order to facilitate the transport of the work to the Villa di Castello, owned Magnificent’s cousin, Lorenzo Pier Francesco de’ Medici, purchaser of great part of Botticelli’s compositions about Venus. The reason for the commissioning could have also been motivated by the birth, in one of the ramifications of the Medici family, of Maria Margherita in 1484. Maybe the flowers on the pink cloak and the seashell refer to her name (margarita means “pearl” in Latin).

• The painting illustrates a famous passage of the Stanze from Politian, where Venus on her shell, emerges from the sea and is pushed to the shore by the “lascivious Zephyruses”. Botticelli represents these winds as two embracing lovers, intertwined together while flying and blowing, blossoming roses and flowers and awakening Nature (it is a fertilized blow). From this blow (the blow of the passion), Venus, just born, is “moved and inspired”. From the other side, Horae rushes with a floral cloak (allusive to Nature’s grass and flower clothes) in order to cover Venus.

• Among the symbolic meanings there is also that of the union of the opposites (the two lovers, the wind that uncovers, Horae who covers, etc.), the index of divine perfection, recognizable also by the chaste and pure Venus, who expresses the double nature of love: at the same time sensual and ideal, passion and perfection. But it represents also the double human nature: body and soul. Therefore there is also a double connection between the pagan myth of the birth of Venus from the sea waves and the Christian myth of the soul’s birth from the baptism water. This point reinforces the probability that this could be a painting about the baptism, a gift for the little Margherita de’ Medici.

A. Cocchi.

Trad. A. Sturmer

 


 

Biliography:

C. Bo, G. Mandel L'opera completa del Botticelli. Classici Rizzoli, Milano 1966
G. Cornini. Botticelli. Dossier Art n. 49, Giunti editore, Firenze 1990
L. H. Heydenreich Il Primo Rinascimento. Arte italiana 1400-1460. Rizzoli Editore, Milano 1979
R. e M. Wittkower. Nati sotto Saturno. La figura dell'artista dall'Antichità alla Rivoluzione francese. Giulio Einaudi editore s.p.a., Torino 1968
F. Zeri, a cura di N. Augias. Botticelli e l'atelier del Paradiso. in Il romanzo della pittura. Masaccio e Piero. Supplemento al n. 239 de "La Repubblica" del 2/11/1988
G. Cricco, F. Di Teodoro, Itinerario nell’arte, vol. 2, Zanichelli Bologna 2004
G. Dorfles, S. Buganza, J. Stoppa Storia dell'arte. Vol II Dal Quattrocento al Settecento. Istituto Italiano Edizioni Atlas, Bergamo 2008
La Nuova Enciclopedia dell’arte Garzanti, Giunti, Firenze 1986
P. Adorno, A. Mastrangelo Arte. Correnti e artisti vol.II
F. Negri Arnoldi Storia dell'arte vol III
E. Bernini, R. Rota Eikon guida alla storia dell'arte. Vol. 2 Dal Quattrocento al Seicento. Editori Laterza, Bari 2006

 

 

Tags:Botticelli, Venus, painting, Renaissance, .

Stile:Rinascimento, Quattrocento.

Per saperne di più sulla città di: Firenze, Uffizi

 



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Sandro Botticelli. The Birth of Venus. 1485. Tempera on canvas. 172x278 cm. Florence, Uffizi



 

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