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The Birth of Venus, created by the Italian painter Sandro Botticelli in 1484 depicts the arrival of Venus on her homeland, the island of Cyprus. Critics agree that the story of Venus that Botticelli painted is inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses, reflecting the contemporary literary culture.

There is debate over aspects of the work, such as why it was painted. Many believe that it was commissioned by the Medici family. The Birth of Venus depicts orange trees which are considered an emblem of the Medici dynasty because of the similarity between the Medici family name and the name for the orange tree at the time - ‘mala medica’. The idea that the painting was commissioned by the Medici family is strengthened by the fact that they owned and displayed some of Botticelli’s other works, perhaps commissioned at the same time. The pose of the woman in Botticelli’s painting mimics the ancient greek statue of the chaste Venus, or the Venus Pudica, later dubbed the Venus Medici because it was found on display in the Medici family’s collection.

Venus’s nude depiction is significant and strange, given that almost all artwork in the 15th century represented a Christian theme, and nude women were hardly ever portrayed. The goddess of love is still presented in a chaste, beautiful manor. Botticelli believed in Neoplatonism, a current of thought that tried to connect the Greek and Roman cultural heritage with Christianity. It focused on the perfect fusion of Spirit and Matter, Ideas and Nature. His ideas showed through in his early style, which emphasized the human figure and the symbolism in his work. He was never fully committed to naturalism and used shallow perspective, impossible poses, cartoonish anatomy, and sharp, dark contours around his figures that make it clear his images are fantasy. The Neoplatonic philosophical meaning The Birth of Venus is considered to symbolize is the birth of love and the spiritual beauty as a driving force of life.

The material makeup of this Masterpiece is a major point of interest. The birth of Venus was painted with a mixture of egg yolk and light paint (tempera) that makes it look like a fresco (painted plaster). However, it is actually the first example in Tuscany of a painting on canvas. The Primavera and The Birth of Venus are considered to make up Botticelli’s “serene period,” as they have the same mood and similar subjects; even though the Pimavera was painted just two years prior, it was made on a wood panel. Wood panels were the most popular surfaces for painting in the 15th century and remained popular until the end of the 16th century. Unlike canvas, wood tended to warp in humid regions, such as Venice, so painters saw canvas as a cheap but sturdy alternative. At the time, canvas was considered appropriate for paintings that were shown in less formal, non-official locations. Botticelli took this cheap material and used a very expensive and unusual materials on top of it. He used alabaster powder, which caused the colours in his painting to be bolder, brighter, and “timeless”. He also used gold to accentuate some details. The extreme care taken in the creation and preservation of The Birth of Venus has helped it survive the centuries, and the painting remains firm and elastic with very few cracks.

The Birth of Venus currently resides at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, alongside many of Boticelli’s other famous works and the Venus Medici.

References: ... q50LABEBVg ... otticelli/ ... botticelli

The Birth of Venus is part of the Masterpieces collection which is found only on Windlyn. You can pick up your very own copy from The Lazarus until the end of June!

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