Sandro Botticelli - The Birth of Venus

by Charlott Feline Bauer


According to the Greek poet Hesiod, the story of Venus begins with the anger and rage of Gaia. The goddess of the earth suffers from the imprisonment of her husband Uranos, deity of the sky, who indispensably watches over her and their common children. To put an end to this, Gaia instructs her youngest son Kronos to cut off the genitals of the sky god with a sickle, during an act of love, and throw them into the sea. Thereupon, the spray and genitals mix, foam rises from the sea and ultimately brings forth the goddess of love, sensual pleasure and beauty: Venus was born.

From this point of view, Sandro Botticelli's painting is strictly speaking not about the birth of Venus - as the title suggests - but about her arrival on the island of Cyprus. For it was only after her birth that the goddess was brought to the shores of the island by Zephyr, a wind god: a mythological scene that Botticelli adapted in his Birth of Venus, based on the literary source stanza per la giostra by the humanist and poet Angelo Polizianos. Thus he created not only a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance , but one of the most famous depictions of Venus of all time.


In the center of the painting shines the unmistakable goddess of beauty. Her body, marked by soft curves, stands in classical contrapposto on the golden swirl of a shell. Her left foot is delicately propped on the rim of the shell, announcing her imminent emergence from the shell. She covers only one of her breasts with her right hand, and her pubic area with the other, holding the end of her exceptionally long, golden-curled hair that blows in the zephyr's breeze. With her head tilted to the right shoulder and slightly lowered gaze, she creates an impression of calm and serenity.


The goddess is adorned by three companions. To her right float closely embraced Zephyr and his wife, the nymph Chloris. Carried by dark green and gold-accented wings, both figures seem to glide nimbly through the air, their draperies only partially covering their bodies. Their gazes are devoted to the young beauty. With fluffed cheeks, Zephyr here presumably exhales the last breath of wind that will finally bring Venus to the shore of the island. His facial expression and the arm stretched backwards testify to a strong will and firm determination to bring about this final, decisive moment of arrival.


To their left stands a Hore, waiting to receive them. With outstretched, open arms she holds out to the arriving, still naked goddess a pinkish purple robe with orange and white spring flowers that she is to wear on her arrival on the mainland. She herself wears a white dress, also decorated with spring flowers, and is thus the only fully clothed figure in Botticelli's painting. A blue anemone entwines itself between her feet. She and the spring flowers on the robes are common signs that this is a Hore of Spring. [1] Around her neck and waist are rosaries, which - like the roses twisting around Zephyr and Chloris in the air - refer to Venus: according to Greek mythology, with the birth of Venus rose bushes grew on the mainland. [2]


The painting's patron is known to be the merchant Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco of the Florentine banking family de' Medici. This results from the design of the background, which, in addition to the coastal landscape stretching to the horizon, also shows an orange grove, which the influential and art-loving de' Medici family owned. [3]


[1] Cf. Lightbrown, Ronald: Sandro Botticelli, Munich 1989, p.159.

2] Cf. Zöllner, Frank: Botticelli, Munich 2009, p.91.

3] Cf. Zöllner, Frank: Botticelli, Munich 2009, p.89.


Sandro Botticelli - The Birth of Venus

Tempera on canvas, c. 1482-1483, 172.5 × 278.5 cm , Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence

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