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Renaissance Top 48: Birth of Venus

Identification

Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus

Context

He made this for Medici. Botticelli's nude presentation of Venus was an innovation. The nude, especially females, had been proscribed during the Middle Ages. The artist's use of an ancient Venus statue as a model could have drawn the charge of paganism and infidelity. But in the more accomodating Renaissance culture and under the protection of the powerful Medici, the depiction went unchallanged. The artist's elegant and beauitful style seems to have ignored all of the scientifc knowledge experimental art had gained. His paintings were visual poetry and they possess a lyricism and courtliness that appealed to cultured patrons such as Medici.

Content

It is a lyrical image that was inspired by a poem by Angelo Poliziano, one of the leadning humanists of the day. In the picture, Zephyrus (the west wind) blows Venus to her sacred island, Cyprus. She was born of the sea foam and is carried on a cockle shell. On this island, the nymph Pomona runs to meet her with a brocaded mantle. The lightness and bodilessness of the winds move all the figures without effort. Draperies undulate easily in the gentle gusts, perfumed by rose petals that fall on the whitecaps. 

Image

Form

1482. Tempera on canvas, approx. 5'8" X 9'1". Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence.

Function

This was made for the Medici family, so it could be used as decoration or maybe to commemorate the goddess Venus. Botticelli is one of the best known artists who produced works for the family.