Botticelli celebrates the beauty of love

Here is a Renaissance masterpiece. Turning away from the medieval style, it suddenly brought Western art into modernity. In the late 15th century, artists changed their way of representing the world.

While in the Middle Ages their inspiration was religious, the Renaissance put man at the center of their concerns. It was a real metaphysical and aesthetic revolution. In painting, secular themes proliferate under the nose and beard of the Church. We see images evolved but also mythological scenes, like this one Birth of Venusone of the most beautiful nudes in art history.

In mythology, Cyprus is the native land of love (close-up of the beach, floating in the back, just next to the tip of the hair). The birth of Venus is a somewhat chaotic stage in mythology … According to legend, Titan Cronos, a very ancient god, rebelled against his father, the conqueror Uranus. So he grabbed him with a sickle, then threw his penis into the sea! By mixing with sea water, the seed of Uranus produces Venus, the goddess of love. Almost unformed, it first drifted towards the Greek island of Kythera, then reached the coast of Cyprus. Here he came out of the water, very precisely on the shore near the town of Paphos.

The woman who serves as the model

Who is beautiful enough to describe Venus? Art critics have often suggested that Simonetta Vespucci would have served as a model for Botticelli for this painting, as well as others. He also posed for many Florentine artists of the time. This noble lady of the city was the mistress of Duke Giuliano de Medici, and the cousin by marriage of Amerigo Vespucci, the famous navigator who left his name in America. Above all, she was considered, in her time, the most beautiful woman in Florence – the least representative of the goddess of love… Some critics think that Venus’s model may also be Sandra Lippi, daughter of master of Botticelli and goddaughter of the latter.

It’s not a pearl

Why did the artist make his Venus out of a scallop shell? To remember, of course, its maritime origin, but also, no doubt, because this shell evokes the form of the female sex. In this way, Botticelli shows – and in a big way – this sex that Venus cares so much about hiding her hair. The same scary game happens with the goddess’s breasts: see how she tries to hide them but without success … Finally, the scallop shell allows Botticelli to compare, metaphorically, the woman he shows us in a pearl! How good is it to praise its perfection? Because, through the Nativity of Venus, what interests the actress is to create an allegory of feminine beauty, love and fertility.

Not very natural beauty

This Venus remains for generation the most natural image of beauty. However, if examined closely, he has a body. Look at his very long neck, his drooping shoulders, and even more impossible to turn his left arm… To be the Venus of his dreams, Botticelli has anatomical freedom!

Under Zephyr’s breath

To represent the birth of Venus, Botticelli was inspired by the story told by Ange Politien, a Renaissance poet… On the left, Zephyr, god of the wind, floats in the arms of the goddess of flowers Chloris, his wife. With his breath – represented by his swollen cheeks – he pushed Venus towards the shore of Paphos. On the right, one of the Hours – this is the name of the daughters of Zeus that comprises the human times – welcomes the young goddess into the human world. Venus brought love to them, where she was the Divinity… For Renaissance artists, inspired by Neoplatonic philosophy, love was a force of divine origin, which placed all nature. And this force that Botticelli unleashes on this canvas, from the wavelets of the sea to the hair of Venus, and to the characters, themselves floating under the effect of the liquid of love!

When Venus escaped the flame

In 1494, a Christian fundamentalist, Jerome Savonarola, took power in Florence. He ordered the burning of all pagan paintings. The worst thing is that Botticelli admires this fanaticism – to the point of burning some of his works at the stake. But luckily not the painting.

Botticelli is now celebrating in Paris: an exhibition dedicated to his works is being held at the Jacquemart-André museum, until January 24, 2022.

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