top of page

Sandro Botticelli - Primavera

by Alexandra Tuschka

At this meeting under an orange grove, all kinds of remarkable figures have come together. Their conversations don't really seem to be getting off the ground, they seem rather lined up. The youth on the left is the messenger Mercury; we recognise him well by his attribute, the winged shoes; with his caduceus (a staff entwined with two winged serpents) he tries to loosen the clouds; the three graces are completely occupied with themselves and united in their typical round dance; the central beauty is the goddess of love Venus. We feel flattered, she only has eyes for us. From the right edge of the picture, the nymph Chloris is still fleeing from the wind god Zephyr. Her story can be found in Ovid's Fasti, where this pursuit is described. Flowers emerge from Chloris' mouth. It is interesting that this same Chloris was later called Flora, the goddess of spring, and we see her right next to her in a flower dress. Compositionally, this transformation is illustrated by the ribbon of flowers coming out of Chloris' mouth. Flora sprinkles us and her surroundings with blossoms and has already been very industrious, as the richly stocked floor and reveals. Botanists were able to identify 138 different plants in this work. Above, little Cupid flies and shoots his love arrow into the group of women. He is blindfolded, but the chances are good. He will hit one of them. His presence also erases any last doubts about the identification of the middle woman as Venus, for Cupid is Venus' son and her faithful companion on many canvases. The same applies to the three Graces. In the background, trees rhythmise the picture with vertical lines.

Next to the Birth of Venus, this is probably the most famous work by the Italian painter Sandro Boticelli and also depicts a scene from classical mythology, although the combination of his figures is a purely imaginary encounter. This makes an interpretation of the scene difficult to this day, and it is all too understandable that researchers have not been able to settle on an interpretation. This phenomenon is typical of Boticelli, who liked to understand allegorical themes also as a challenge to the intellect and mythological knowledge of the viewer. So how to interpret this work?

A striking feature of the composition is that the men frame the women. The orange grove opens in the middle and the trees are bent so symmetrically that, apart from the eye contact, the central arrangement and the elevation of the figure, Venus can clearly be made out as the protagonist. Moreover, she is not overlapped. Together with the Birth of Venus, this work hung in the bedchamber of Lorenzo di Medici. Both paintings are described together in the Vitae of Giorgio Vasari. There are some similarities in the composition and in the staff. Here, too, we have Venus standing in the centre, this time naked, as she has just been born. Again Zephyr and presumably Chloris float into the picture from the left and the lady on the left, although interpreted as one of the Horae, shows a rather similar taste to Floris in her choice of dress.

Vasari, who described both works, also gave his name to our main work. Possibly, the Uffizi admit, the painting was created to celebrate Lorenzo's marriage to Semiramide Appiani in May 1482. Most interpretations assume that this is a love theme, after all, the location and also the emphasis on the goddess of love point to this. Other scholars (additionally) assume influences from the Florentine festival, the poem "De Rerum Natura" by Titus Lucretius Carus, or even see philosophical questions embodied in the work. Of course, other interpretations of the figures have been thrown into the room again and again, such as the central figure as biblical Eve or Persephone abducted into the underworld, but they were not convincing. So one can only humbly state that while there is unity in the identification of the characters, there is nothing to speak of in everything else.

Sandro Botticelli - Primavera

Tempera on wood, 1482, 203 x 314 cm, Gallery of the Uffizi, Florence

Sandro Botticelli - The Birth of Venus

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


bottom of page