The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli, 1482-1486
Sandro Botticelli (1444-1510) was a master of Renaissance art and The Birth of Venus, one of his most famous works, now hangs in the Uffizi gallery in Florence. The painting shows Venus, the goddess of love, in an interpretation of classical myth. Botticelli painted this pagan theme at a time when most paintings depicted Christian ideals and the vast majority of women in paintings were depicted as a chaste Virgin Mary, so it is surprising that he chose to paint Venus as a nude. It was only to due to Botticelli's friendship with the powerful Medici family that the painting escaped the ire of the Catholic Church and Savonarola's bonfires, where several other pagan Botticelli paintings perished in the flames. The painting shows Venus emerging from the sea on a shell, a fully grown woman, being blown to shore by Zephyrs, who are symbols of spiritual passions, while roses shower down upon her. One of the goddesses of the seasons, or Horae, hands her a cloak as she prepares to step on the shore. Many different aspects of Botticelli's painting are in motion, from Venus's flowing ringlets that cascade around her to the billowing gown that is being presented to her. Botticelli was inspired after reading descriptions by Lucian, a 2nd Century historian, of a masterpiece by Apeles called Anadyomene Venus, 'Anadyomene' meaning 'rising from the sea'. Venus's pose is reminiscent of the Venus di Medici, a classical marble statue that Botticelli had studied. The Birth of Venus does not follow the classical realism of Raphael or da Vinci, as Venus's shoulder slopes at an unlikely angle and her neck is impossibly long, it has been suggested that the painting prefigures mannerism.