Here is a masterpiece of the Renaissance. She turned her back on medieval style, bringing Western art into modernity. At the end of the fifteenth century, artists changed their way of representing the world.
Whereas in the Middle Ages their inspiration was mainly religious, the Renaissance puts the human being at the center of their concerns. It is a true metaphysical and aesthetic revolution. In painting, secular themes proliferate under the noses and beard of the church. We see flourishing images but also legendary scenes, like this Birth of VenusOne of the most beautiful nudes in art history.
In mythology, Cyprus is the home of love (close-up of the beach, which looms in the background, next to the tip of the hair). The birth of Venus is a rather turbulent episode in mythology … According to legend, Titan Cronus, a very ancient deity, revolts against his father, the tyrannical Uranus. He cast him with a machete and then threw his penis into the sea! By mixing with sea water, the sperm of Uranus is born Venus, the goddess of love. Barely formed, it drifts first towards the Greek island of Kythira, and then reaches the shores of Cyprus. This is where you get out of the water, specifically on a beach near the city of Paphos.
The girl who worked as a model
Who was beautiful enough to photograph Venus? Art critics generally suggest that Simonetta Vespucci would have served as a model for Botticelli in this painting, as for many others. It was also formed in front of many Florentine painters of the time. This noblewoman of the city was the mistress of Duke Giuliano de’ Medici, and her cousin from the marriage of Amerigo Vespucci, the famous navigator who left his name to America. Above all, she was considered, in her time, the most beautiful woman in Florence – the least representative of the goddess of love … But some critics have imagined that the model of Venus could also be Sandra Lippi, the daughter of the master of Botticelli and the daughter of the latter.
This is not a pearl
Why does the painter make Venus come out of the oyster shell? A reminder, of course, of its marine origins, but also, no doubt, because this shell evokes the form of female sexuality. In this way, Botticelli shows – and in a big way – the gender that Venus cares so much about hiding with her hair. The same annoying game happens with the breasts of the goddess: see how she tries to hide her but without success … Finally, the scallop shell allows Botticelli to compare, metaphorically, the woman he showed us with a pearl! How better to praise her perfection? Because through the birth of Venus, what interests the artist is to create an allegory of female beauty, love and fertility.
Not natural beauty
This flower remained in posterity the most natural image of beauty. However, upon closer examination, it has a unique body. Watch her extra-long neck, drooping shoulders, and more so the impossible twist of her left arm… To create the Venus of his dreams, Botticelli takes freedom with anatomy!
Under the exhale breath
To represent the birth of Venus, Botticelli was inspired by the story told by Ange Politian, the Renaissance poet… On the left, Zephyr, the god of the wind, floats in the arms of his wife the goddess of flowers. With his breath – his swollen cheeks – he pushes Venus toward Paphos shore. On the right, one of the clocks – this is the name of the daughters of Zeus personifying the human seasons – welcoming the young goddess into the human world. Venus brings them love, which is his god … For the artists of the Renaissance, inspired by Neoplatonic philosophy, love was a force of divine origin, inculcating all of nature. And this is the force that Botticelli unleashes on this painting, from the waves of the sea to the hair of Venus, and to the characters floating under the influence of the liquid of love!
When the flower escapes the flames
In 1494, a Christian fundamentalist, Jerome Savonarola, seized power in Florence. He orders the burning of all pagan paintings. The worst thing is that Botticelli admired this fanatic – to the point of burning many of his works at the stake. But fortunately not the painting.
Botticelli is currently celebrating in Paris: an exhibition dedicated to his work is being held at the Musée Jacquemart André, until January 24, 2022.