The model for Botticelli's Venus

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The Model of Birth of Venus: Simonetta Vespucci

There is a legend about Sandro Botticelli's painting, The Birth of Venus, and a quite romantic one, at that. Some say that Botticelli was commissioned to create the painting by Giuliano di Piero de' Medici, who was in love with Simonetta Vespucci, the model for Venus, who hailed from Portovenere, a town known as the birthplace of Venus. It was a great, legendary love that held many Tuscans in thrall, and The Birth of Venus hangs in celebration of that love in the Uffizi Gallery, one of the most popular museums not only in Florence, but in all of Italy.

Around the late 1400s, Giuliano ruled Florence with his brother, Lorenzo the Magnificent, and while Lorenzo was busy running the city, Giuliano joined and won sports competitions to win Simonetta's affections. At one joust, his banner bore a painting of Simonetta's face, created by Botticelli for the occasion, with the words "The Unparalleled One" printed underneath.

Simonetta was married to Marco Vespucci and could not openly return Giuliano's declarations of love. While many historically refer to Simonetta as Giuliano's mistress, it was never confirmed if they did indeed have a more intimate relationship. However, Giuliano's open adorations and demonstrations of love for Simonetta has had many romantics wishing for a happily ever after.

Simonetta was actually introduced to Botticelli by her husband, who had brought her to Florence after their wedding. She modeled not only for Botticelli's paintings - she also appears in his Primavera - but for other well-known painters as well. Soon, her likeness was featured all over Florence and every man in the city was in love with her, gaining the nickname "La bella Simonetta."

It is also said that Botticelli himself was in love with la bella Simonetta, but it was a love that he kept to himself. Instead, he celebrated that love by painting her. And painting her, and painting her. Aside from many portraits he made of her, and the two famous paintings which hang in the Uffizi Gallery, many of the women in Botticelli's paintings resemble Simonetta. He continued to paint her even after she died, perhaps even more so.

The young Simonetta tragically died of tuberculosis at the age of 22. The Birth of Venus was actually completed in 1485, nine years after her death. That Botticelli was able to still capture her beauty even by painting her from memory was enough to establish that the great painter did indeed love Simonetta, as did his wish to be buried at her feet upon his own death. They lie together in the church of the Vespucci, the Chiesa d'Ognissanti in Florence. The Birth of Venus is one of Botticelli's few pagan paintings that was not destroyed by the Catholic Church. There is another legend that Lorenzo de Medici protected this painting from the wrath of the Church; some attribute this to Botticelli being a favored painter, while some like to imagine that Lorenzo's inspiration was his brother's great love affair.

The Birth of Venus is found in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and is a sight that you must definitely see when you visit this romantic city, for this painting not only stands for the brilliance of Botticelli as an artist or the glory of Florence in the time of the Medicis, but also for the love of many great men for one astonishingly beautiful woman, a legend that can only be true in the city of Florence.


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