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La Primavera from Sandro Botticelli

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The Primavera



The Primavera. Style

The Primavera. Meanings




The Primavera


La Primavera from Sandro Botticelli, also know as Allegory of Spring, is part of the Uffizi Gallery collection in Florence. It is one of the most famous masterpieces from the Italian Renaissance. The panel was painted around 1478 for the artist’s friend and protector, Lorenzo Pier Francesco de’ Medici – cousin of  ‘Lorenzo the Magnificent’ – and it seems that it was destined to the Villa di Castello.


Sandro Botticelli. Allegory of Spring. 1482 ca.
Tempera on wood. 203x314 cm. Firenze, Uffizi


The painter shows a great allegory, with a complex and articulate meaning that reflects the sophisticated cultural context of the said “garden of Medici”, a very elitist and bustle atmosphere. The work gathers several details, belonging to different knowledge and disciplines, where it is quite easy to imagine an interaction between the artist and other intellects of the Medici court in an iconographic formulation and definition. Given the development of the theme and above all, the choice of characters and mythological atmosphere, the painting turns out inspired by several literary sources, either classic or contemporary. In fact, besides the reference to works like De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) from Lucretius, and to the writings of Ovid like Metamorphoses and Fasti, all dating back from the 1st Century BC, traces of contemporary poetry can be found, like Stanze per la Giostra from Angelo Politian. It is worth noting that the Stanze were born during a tournament in Florence in 1475, where Giuliano de’ Medici was the winner. The several symbols seen in the painting are a reference to the great cultural context of the Neoplatonic philosophy that flourished right in the Medici court.
Destined to this closed circle of intellectuals, this work has been carried out to be included and admired in that elitist and refined cultural atmosphere, and despite being one of the most celebrated and studied masterpieces of the history of art, it still shows mysterious aspects. Scholars have clarified some of the conceptual contents, but the masterpiece still lends itself to analysis in order to understand at least some more of its fascinating meanings.




Sandro Botticelli. Allegory of Spring. Detail of Zephyrus and Chloris. 1482. ca.
Tempera on wood. 203x314 cm. Firenze, Uffizi


In the Primavera (Allegory of Spring), painted by Sandro Botticelli in 1478, the female figure is the main protagonist of the painting, seen in the centre and dominating the composition. It is an elegant lady, dressed in white, with a transparent voile on her head, adorned with jewellery and golden embroidery, wearing a red draped cloak and gold sandals. She moves with grace and is making a gesture with the hand, as if she was dancing or greeting someone. From the myrtle plant around her and from her central position in the garden one can identify her as Venus.
Above her, Cupid flutters, represented as a blindfolded putto (1), while throwing an arrow towards the Three Graces, symbol of beauty and grace, who are dancing to the left. These three famous young girls (Splendour, Joy and Abundance) are art’s most admired female figures of all times. With their graceful movements, dressed in transparent voiles and with interlaced hands, they form a ring-a-ring-o’-roses.


Sandro Botticelli. Allegory of Spring. Detail of Venus-Humanitas. 1482 ca.
Tempera on wood. 203x314 cm. Firenze, Uffizi


With these figures, Botticelli defines the feminine beauty of the 13th Century, blond and slender, of delicate features, with agile bodies and fair complexion. Apart from the female figures, the wind that seeps between the voiles, playing and ruffling, is another detail particularly admired in this masterpiece and also described in De Pictura (On Painting), from Leon Battista Alberti.
To the far left, the handsome boy wearing a red cloak, with dark and curly hair and wearing a sword, a helmet and Roman sandals, is Mercury, the divine messenger. He is the guardian of the sacred woods and he is committed to chase the clouds away, so not to disturb the eternal spring of the garden of Venus. He is holding the caduceus, symbol of peace.
On the opposite side, to the far right, the bluish character is Zephyrus, the west wind that announces the spring. He enters the scene flying, with a fluttering cloak and swollen cheeks from blowing. He reaches the nymph Chloris who is escaping. The encounter of the two characters, according to Ovid in Fasti, provokes a blossoming of flowers in Chloris’ mouth. Their union, according to the old tale, leads to the transformation of the young girl in Flora, goddess of youth and flowering of plant, patron saint of the cultivation of plants and of the female fertility. Flora is the lady represented just on her right, wearing a floral white dress and a garland. She is smiling, while singing and dancing, spreading roses around her. She brings spring’s colour and perfume to the garden.





Sandro Botticelli. La Primavera. Dett. degli aranci. 1482 ca.
Tempera su tavola. cm. 203X314. Firenze, Uffizi



The Primavera, painted by Sandro Botticelli in 1473, is presented in a flowered frame of a spring meadow with grass and plants of every species, detailed with scientific precision. Botticelli’s style, based mainly on design and characterized by an extremely mobile and soft line, is particularly suitable to this type of description, and reaches a high quality level in this painting.
The luxurious vegetation is painted with different tones of very intense green. The space is enclosed by an orange grove, where the trees show either flowers or fruit.


Sandro Botticelli. La Primavera. Dett. del mirto.
1482 ca.  Tempera su tavola. cm. 203X314. Firenze, Uffizi

In the centre of the orange woods, a space opens to a perfect arch shape, where a myrtle plant, sacred to Venus, can be identified.
This perfect place, painted by Botticelli, represents Cyprus, the mythical island where, according to the ancients, the garden of Venus was found.


Sandro Botticelli. La Primavera. dett. dell'iris.
1482 ca.  Tempera su tavola. cm. 203X314. Firenze, Uffizi


Plants, colours and atmosphere were chosen by Botticelli due to their particular meanings that refer to the Neoplatonic philosophy and to the remarks of Marsilio Ficino.



The Primavera. Style


The theme of Botticelli’s Primavera is classic, but the artistic view is far from the classic style.
In the composition, the characters and groups are isolated, they are not related between them or with the atmosphere.
The painting is anti-Renaissance for the lack of prospective space and plasticity. The trees and the bushes prevent from seeing in depth and line up as a big theatre backdrop.
The absence of shades and the very delicate chiaroscuro remove every concreteness from the shapes and bodies, which seem to be light and ethereal.


Sandro Botticelli. The Primavera. Part of the Three Graces 1478-80.
Tempera on wood. cm. 203X314. Florence, Uffizi Gallery

There is no psychological connection between the characters, each one seem to ignore the presence of the other. But Botticelli adds a high poetic quality, exactly because of the perfect forms, and the harmony of the linear rhythm. The design is flowing and precise, it seems live, as if itself created these elegant and languid figures, of sophisticated, evanescent grace. Worth noting the pose, the details of the forearms, the intertwined hands, the agile feet, which recall the dance rhythm and the movement.
The reference to the dance, to the music and to a sound harmony is found in the fluid, light and cold colours of the undergrowth, in the veil transparency effects, but above all, in the eyes, in the oscillating movements of his line. It is a completely free line that follows an absolute principle of fantasy and beauty, fruit of pure imagination. The world proposed by Botticelli is one of transcendental vision, a visible utopia.


The Primavera. Meanings


The Primavera (Allegory of Spring) from Botticelli has been analysed deeply by many scholars in order to understand its meanings. Several hypotheses came out, but the most plausible are the ones that emphasize the link with the Neoplatonic philosophy. The Primavera transpires as the representation of the universal cyclic nature and as the perfect time of peace and serenity. The season’s mild climate and the awakening of the nature in a continuous blooming and flowering, shows in one hand the “beautiful and friendly nature” concept, and on the other a recall to the attention, to the defence and to the conservation (the armed Mercury, guardian of the sacred woods, chasing the clouds away) of such time and place of peace and beauty.


andro Botticelli. The Primavera. Part of the Three Graces 1478-80.
Tempera on wood. cm. 203X314. Florence, Uffizi Gallery

Linked to this is the relationship Spring-youth, emphasized by the characters and by the presence of the Three Graces. The youthfulness that it hints is not only the obvious one of the young age, but also a youthfulness of spirit, which, in order to be maintained, is fed by Nature (the garden full of flowers), Grace and Virtue (the Three Graces), by Reason (Mercury, symbol of reason and good advice), by Love (Cupid) and Beauty (Venus). The allegoric content of each character is emphasized also by their isolation from one to the other as if they all were concepts methodically aligned in the composition.

The fructifying wind Zephyrus unites himself to Chloris and indicates the spring as a symbol of Nature’s producing capacity. The Nature that offers at the same time flowers and fruit (orange grove), Cupid’s presence, the swelling of the women’s wombs with Venus in the centre, introduce the link between nature and eroticism. But besides it there is a religious message: in Genesis, the wind is understood as the materialization of God’s spirit in the creation of the world, the life’s breath, which God sends to all living beings. In the Greek version of the New Testament the wind is also the equivalent to the man’s soul, creature similar to God. Blowing in the nostrils of the man, God gives life to a special creature, superior to all the other ones, according to the Neoplatonic intellectuals, and therefore also “creative”, or able to create by means of artistic activity. The physical fertility is therefore compared to the intellectual one.

The dominating position of Venus underlines the importance and the centrality of this figure which, beyond but not limited to the classic ancestry, represents the Renaissance subject of the Humanitas, fundamental in Marsilio Ficino theory, mastermind of the Neoplatonism. According to this concept, the Humanitas (Humanity) is the whole of the spiritual activity of man, and in this painting it is in the centre, with a raised hand, as to guide all that happens and to indicate the Three Graces. To the Neoplatonic intellectuals from the Renaissance, they represent the Arts (the spirit activity) and Cupid in this setting, throwing an arrow towards them, represents love.

The reference to the art is rather clear; the picture is obviously there, the architecture is indicated by the presence of a central arch, the sculptural figures, the music, and the dance. There is also the singing, detected from the attitude and movements of the characters beyond the contour lines - extremely mobile and musical – and the colours, light and luminous notes on a dark background, like a melody.

These three levels of meaning – the naturalistic key (spring as the awakening of nature), erotic key (spring as the expression of senses) and aesthetics key (spring as the symbol of the artistic-creative ability) – are all interlaced. According to Ficino, to live in beauty is a way to cross the earthly dimension and it is a proposal of a refined life style. Venus is therefore a symbol of beauty like a spiritual elevation through art and knowledge.

Next to these, other meanings can be highlighted and re-linked to the Neoplatonic scene. The detailed description and the scientific precision with what Botticelli paints the numerous plants and greens of the garden of Venus, is the equivalent to some type of botanical encyclopaedia or herbarium. Moreover is it about plants carefully chosen for their healthy virtues, associated to colours, perfumes, metals, stones and the beneficial influence of the planets that belong to the “natural magic” in which Marsilio Ficino focused his studies.
Another reference to the alchemy is found in the presence of Mercury and his caduceus, also this one a symbol. The Neoplatonic intellectuals see cold colours, particularly the green and the azure, as colours of positive virtue, specially if linked to gold, which is seen here in the fine lines painted by Botticelli.
Botticelli’s work of art is seen by some scholars as a big talisman, dedicated to the young Lorenzo Pier Francesco de’ Medici, to whom Marsilio Ficino dedicated a letter in 1477, probably accompanying the painting, wishing him to find the balance of all his talents in the devotion to Venus-Humanitas.


A. Cocchi

Trad. A. Sturmer



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Tags:Botticelli, spring, Neoplatonism, symbol, allegory, painting, Ranaissance, CLIL, .

Stile:Quattrocento, Rinascimento.

Per saperne di più sulla città di: Firenze, Uffizi


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Sandro Botticelli.The Primavera. 1482 ca. Tempera on wood. cm. 203X314. Florence, Uffizi Gallery


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