Venus by Botticelli

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The Birth of Venus

Born as Alessandro Filipepi, Sandro Botticelli was able to establish his reputation as a gifted and influential artist during the era of the Italian Renaissance period. Since the Medici, an important family in Florence, favored Botticelli, this family commissioned many of his works. The Birth of Venus is believed to be one of these paintings. It is suspected to have been commissioned for a wedding gift to a cousin by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici(“Sandro Botticelli Biography”, 2011).

In this painting, Venus is depicted as the goddess of beauty, love, and chastity coming into being. As in almost all paintings of Venus, flowers are being showered on her as she is being blown across the sea. These flowers represent the beginning of spring and new life, which Venus is bringing with her. She is pictured sailing on an abnormally large shell, which represents the deity of her goddess rank. Her feet are positioned in a strange position, not facing forward or even that she is standing straight up, but in a relaxed position, almost as if she is teetering on the edge of her vessel. Zephyr, who is the symbol for human passion, is pictured blowing Venus across the sea to her new home. He is seen carrying Cloris, a nymph Zephyr took advantage of and who was transformed into the goddess Flora. The woman receiving Venus is one of the goddesses of the seasons, known as Hora. She represents as one who is welcoming Venus into her full role of a goddess. Some think that the covering up of Venus was meant that Venus was ashamed of her nakedness and the Hora is covering her up to hide her naked figure. Others choose to believe that this covering up is meant out of respect of affection for the deity she has become(Bowman, 2008).

I choose to believe the latter opinion. In this painting, I do not see shame on the face of Venus. I see beauty, peace, and something else of a higher power, as if Venus is thinking about things much more important than herself. Although everyone’s attention on Venus, she chooses to not even acknowledge the attention that is lavished on her. She is not even looking at her origin, toward the human passion or looking to where she is headed. She is glancing nonchalantly in another direction, as if she does not have to be concerned with anything else. The viewer can see the darkness of human passion directly behind Zephyr and Cloris, becoming lighter as the focus is concentrated on Venus, showing the higher and more spiritual side of this goddess.

It is quite surprising that Botticelli has painted Venus as nude since he has depicted her in a manner that is similar to the way that the Virgin Mary has been depicted in the past. The Catholic Church found this similarity extremely offensive and would have burned this painting if Botticelli had not been linked to the Medici family. No one is sure why Botticelli chose to picture her in this way. It might have been because Lorenzo told him, but it is more likely Botticelli wanted to do something that had not been done before. He must have guessed that his beautiful painting would be safe from the anger of the church, thanks to his relationship with the Medici family. This connection was a good thing too; otherwise this work of art would have been lost forever.


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