Visually rich and vivid, Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus is almost as poetic to look at as the refrains from which it draws inspiration are to read.
As one of the first works to employ a style that led to some of history’s greatest and most famous art, The Birth of Venus’ influence runs much deeper than you may realize.
Beauty and Triumph
This painting, one of Botticelli’s most famous, was commissioned by a wealthy Italian family sometime around 1484. The inspiration for the work came from Homer’s poems, which conveyed a traditional account of the birth of the goddess Venus. The tempera painting is a colorfully depiction of this account.
In the center of the composition, Venus (freshly born from sea foam), rides to shore on a large shell, blown in by the Zephyrus. She is nude, and her milky skin is covered only by her abundant copper hair. To her left, Zephyrus guides Venus to shore with his breath as he holds a nymph in his arms. To her right, Hora (goddess of Spring) waits to wrap Venus in a floral swatch of fabric.
Interpretations of the painting are vast and far-reaching, though it cannot be known for certain whether or not Botticelli intended for viewers to derive any further meaning from this work. The painting may represent a comfortable synergy between man and nature, or perhaps the arrival of the Humanist movement to Florence.
Today, the painting remains in the same city where it was born. It hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy where admirers may view the work, which is now more than 530 years old.
A Goddess Revealed
While the subject of the painting was likely suggested when it was commissioned (though this is not known for certain), Botticelli chose to take a very literal style with his depiction.
Venus (known in Greek mythology as Aphrodite) was the Roman Goddess of Love. She was said to have been born out of sea foam and ridden a shell by Zephyr winds to a nearby island. Venus was supposed to be supremely beautiful, and responsible for inspiring love and passion in human beings.
It was somewhat uncouth to paint a nude woman at this time, and depictions such as these had fallen out of popularity by Botticelli’s lifetime. Since they had been more popular in ages of old, Botticelli likely had to draw his inspiration for Venus’ figure from an old roman statue that depicted the goddess in the same pose.
Others contend that Botticelli had a real life muse, and that she makes frequent appearances in his work.
By painting this antiquated subject matter in a budding new style, Botticelli opened the door to a wider range of subjects as the Italian Renaissance picked up steam.
Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus made great strides in opening up the door for the Italian Renaissance to barge in. His depiction was realistic and vivid, but not quite as much as later masters of the style, like Da Vinci and Michelangelo.
Though not quite as famous as some of his contemporaries, Botticelli’s work clearly conforms to the same standards as such renowned artists as Da Vinci. Serene figures met with complementary surroundings, often depicting highly narrative scenes, were all common during this period. Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus broke norms of his time, and today acts as something of a visual link in the art world between two different periods. Whatever his inspiration, Botticelli’s influence brought about by this painting is undeniable.