The Birth of Venus (Botticelli)

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The Birth of Venus (in Italian: Nascita di Venere) is a painting by Sandro Botticelli. It depicts the goddess Venus, having emerged from the sea as a full grown woman, arriving at the sea-shore (which is related to the Venus Anadyomene motif). The painting is held in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Contents

Origins

In the past many scholars thought that this large picture may have been, like the Primavera, painted for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici's Villa di Castello, around 1482, or even before. This was because Vasari, in his 1550 edition of the Lives of the Artists wrote: "... today, still at Castello, in the villa of the Duke Cosimo, there are two paintings, one the birth of Venus and those breezes and winds that bring her to land with the loves, and likewise another Venus, whom the Graces adorn with flowers, denoting the Springtime."[1] But the Birth of Venus, unlike the Primavera, is not found in Medici inventories of the late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries,[2] which has led some recent scholars to rethink the patronage, and hence the meaning, of the painting. In the last 30 years most art historians have dated the painting, based on its stylistic qualities, to c. 1485–87.

Interpretations

The iconography of Birth of Venus is very similar to a description of the event (or rather, a description of a sculpture of the event) in a poem by Angelo Poliziano, the Stanze per la giostra.[3] No single text provides the precise content of the painting, however, which has led scholars to propose many sources and interpretations.[4] Art historians who specialize in the Italian Renaissance have found a Neoplatonic interpretation, which was most clearly articulated by Ernst Gombrich, to be the most enduring way to understand the painting.

For Plato – and so for the members of the Florentine Platonic Academy – Venus had two aspects: she was an earthly goddess who aroused humans to physical love or she was a heavenly goddess who inspired intellectual love in them. Plato further argued that contemplation of physical beauty allowed the mind to better understand spiritual beauty. So, looking at Venus, the most beautiful of goddesses, might at first raise a physical response in viewers which then lifted their minds towards the Creator.[5] A Neoplatonic reading of Botticelli's Birth of Venus suggests that 15th-century viewers would have looked at the painting and felt their minds lifted to the realm of divine love.

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