Like his other great work, Primavera, Botticelli's painting tells a story that historians and art experts continue to study using the intricate details, clues and cues contained within the image.
Although the work has been confirmed as a Botticelli piece, the painting's early history is unclear. It was painted around 1486 and it is thought to have been commissioned by the powerful Medici family, possibly Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici or his second cousin Lorenzo the Magnificent. It was first written about in 1550 by the art historian Giorgio Vasari and was seen at the Medici Villa Castello. In 1598 it was recorded on an inventory, showing it to have been hung in a ground floor chamber, possibly over the marital bed which is why some writers have considered that the painting could have been a wedding gift, particularly given the nature of the subject matter.
The painting itself would have been considered avant-garde and controversial in its day for a number of reasons. Firstly it was a tempura on canvas when most paintings, including Botticelli's "Primavera", were painted on wood panel. Canvas would have been seen as less formal and would have been cheaper but it would have had the advantage of not warping like wood. Despite the use of canvas, the painting contains a lot of gold leaf which suggests that it was an elegant piece of art. Perhaps the most significant aspect of the painting is the fact that it features nudity at a time when most paintings were about religious subject matter. Nudidty was usually only seen when the figure of Eve was painted or to illustrate ideas about humiliation or sin.
Inspiration behind The Birth of Venus
The inspiration for the Birth of Venus seems to have been drawn from a number of sources. These include a Homeric Hymn published in 1488, Latin literature, the Stanzas by poet Poliziano and Neo-Platonist ideas about love and spiritual beauty. The pose adopted by the central figure of Venus also mirrors the pose of the "Medici Venus", a sculpture and copy of a Greek statue of the goddess.
The painting, which measures approximately 172cm by 278cm with its life-sized figures, now hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence along with other Botticelli masterpieces like "Primavera" which also features the Goddess Venus in an allegory of Spring.
The Birth of Venus shows the Goddess of Love, balanced on a shell near the shore. Her placement at the centre of the painting and in a triangular arrangement with the other grouping of figures is usually how the Virgin Mary is depicted in religious paintings. Yet this is a pagan scene and the woman is Venus, Goddess of Love. She covers her nakedness with her beautiful flowing hair and arm. She gazes out thoughtfully, some have described her expression as slightly melancholy. She appears modest and pure. In mythology she was born from the sea after Uranus' genitals were cut off and thrown into the foam. Some scholars have also commented that in classical literature a seashell often represents the female vulva, hence signifying her birth. However, in the story, she travels to Cyprus on the shell so the birth of Venus could also refer to her "arrival". Botticelli's naked Venus is a vision of pure beauty. He has elongated her body and neck and given her body a sensual curve, posing her in a position which many comment is anatomically impossible. Her "contrapposto" position adds to her grace and apparent weightlessness. Her hair is flowing in the breeze and Botticelli added gold leaf to strands of her hair and her eyes to create a warm, glowing brilliance. It seems he originally drew some of her hair on the left but changed this in order to exaggerate the wind and movement on the right.
Content within the Painting Explained
On the right of the painting, the winged figure of Zephyrus, the March Wind puffs his cheeks and blows. Entwined around him is Chloris or Aura, a nymph of the wind, who also blows gently. Beautiful pink roses scatter about them on the breeze. They are lovers whose breath pushes the shell carrying Venus towards the shore. Here on the shore one of the Horae, a Goddess of Seasons, possibly Flora, Goddess of Spring and flowers, awaits her arrival. Flora is ready to hand Venus a red cloak in order to conceal her nakedness. Flora is beautifully drawn, wearing a belt or girdle of roses and a myrtle garland near her neck. The cloak is covered with beautifully drawn flowers. Reading the picture from left to right it has been suggested that the scene may depict erotic love compelling pure divine love to descend to earth.
The painting required restoration in 1987 as parts of it had turned opaque. Restoration revealed the soft, pearly colours and tones that Botticelli had originally intended. He had also used expensive alabaster powder in order to make his colours even brighter and longer lasting. The detail within the picture is exquisite and demonstrates Botticelli's incredible draughtsmanship. He would have used tiny flicks of white paint to create the gentle rippling effect on the sea and he has used gold leaf again on his very stylized orange trees and foliage. It is interesting to note that oranges were emblem of the Medici family so confirming the likelihood of a Medici commission. Botticelli originally trained as a gold smith so his mastery and use of the gold leaf is understandable. Like his Primavera, Botticelli has painted numerous flowers in careful and accurate detail which have been studied carefully for symbolic meaning. The violets in the foreground are often a symbol of love and modesty. The placing of the reeds in the picture is interesting as some writers have suggested that this maybe a reference to the genitals of Uranus.
Sandro Botticelli's Painting Style
Botticelli's style of painting was different to others in that it had a flatter appearance. His figures have been described as appearing almost as "cut-outs" with careful and clear outlines. According to many writers, their arrangement towards the front of the scene and Botticelli's lack of concern with perspective would have made the scene suitable for use on a frieze or vase. His style also differed because of his idealization of the characters, the fluidity and sense of movement that he achieves through the flowing garments. His figures also achieve a sense of weightlessness as none of them are fully grounded.
Many accounts suggest that Simonetta Vespucci was Botticelli's model for Venus. Simonetti was a beautiful, married noble woman, admired and loved by many, including Botticelli. Sadly she died at just twenty-two years of age and although his love for her was not returned, Botticelli asked to be buried at her feet. Although it was clear that Botticelli loved and admired her, there does not appear to be any firm evidence to support the idea of her modelling for Venus.
The History of The Birth of Venus
This incredible painting survived the Priest Savonarola's "Bonfire of the Vanities" when numerous works of art and other items in Florence were seen as "immoral" and burned upon a huge bonfire in 1497. It also survived the wartime bombing raids. For a time, Botticelli's work was unpopular and interest in his paintings waned until his work was "rediscovered" by the renewed interest in Florentine arts in the nineteenth century. The Pre-Raphaelites in particular, who loved Botticelli's beautiful images, colours and use of line re-ignited interest in the Italian painter and his paintings.
Botticelli's works of art have been copied, reproduced and replicated in many forms. The Birth of Venus has inspired designer clothing and even Lady Gaga's latest Artpop album cover. It has appeared in Terry Gilliam's Monty Python animation sketches and has inspired film sequences such as Ursula Andress's famous scene in Dr. No when she emerges from the sea carrying shells. It was also parodied in a scene in the film "The Adventures of Baron Munchausen". The Birth of Venus has inspired many other pieces of art including Alain Jacquet's "Camouflage Botticelli's" in the early 1960s which cheekily used the Shell Petrol pump logos to illustrate man's desires being satisfied. Botticelli's images have been utilized and re-worked so many times that in 2016 the Victoria and Albert Museum in London created an exhibition titled "Botticelli Reimagined" featuring many of these works.
In addition to painting Venus in "Primavera", Botticelli portrayed the goddess again in his painting titled "Mars and Venus". Some writers have considered the idea that these paintings might have been part of a series. No doubt scholars and experts will continue to examine the clues and discover new information about these three paintings in time.
Without a doubt, Botticelli's Birth of Venus is a image that has captivated and enchanted millions of people and is perhaps even capable of fulfilling some of the Neo-Platonist ideals of uplifting viewers minds to a more spiritual love. A remarkable painting which is recognized all over the world.
Birth of Venus is a beautiful painting by famous Italian Renaissance artist Sandro Botticelli and this website is devoted in full to this painting as well as covering the painter's career in detail too. The Birth of Venus ranks as one of the best known and most respected works to have come from a considerable career which placed Botticelli as one of the most influential members of the Italian Renaissance movement.
The Birth of Venus came about in 1486 and it was towards the end of the 15th century that Botticelli was at the height of his career, with most significant paintings coming at that time. This painting can now be found with Primavera in the incredible collection of Italian art at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. If you are interested in seeing other Botticelli paintings then go here.
Birth of Venus was created as tempera on canvas and this was the common media used by most of the masters of the Renaissance. The painting captures goddess Venus who appears from the sea after her mythological birth. Venus was depicted in several of the artist's paintings and he found mythological characters a good way to get his own messages across.
Italian art dominated the development of European art throughout the 15th and 16th centuries when painters like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael and Sandro Botticelli produced art of the highest level which also broke from what had gone before and set art upon a new, more imaginative and impressive direction which was to remain popular right up to the modern day.
All of the links provided within thebirthofvenus.org take you to the Art.com Botticelli gallery which includes all of the artist's major original paintings available to buy as framed art prints plus many other different media, with a large selection available so you can find something which best suits your own home. We use Art.com ourselves and have several Botticelli prints which were extremely accurate to the originals and amongst the best reproductions that we have seen.
Birth of Venus by Botticelli shows an imaginative artist who is believed to have incorporated mythological, political and religious themes into this painting which provides a multi layered finish that many occasional followers of this artist may not realise. There has been incredible amounts of discussion on this painting over every century which has passed since the work's inception and few true conclusions have been drawn.
Sandro Botticelli established an impressive reputation during his own lifetime which many other famous artists from history have failed to do, and only become widely known many years after their death. As a result of this academic achievement and acceptance within high ranking parts of Italian society, Botticelli received some incredible commissions as a result of his status and many leading Italian cities and institutions were desperate to make use of his talents.
Botticelli Primavera is another highly popular topic online and refers to another of the artist's other classic paintings which features Venus in another mythologically themed work. The purpose of that work is believed to be the symbolic scene of female fertility but many who are not aware of that simply appreciate the feminine characters and the detailed background that is made up of hundreds of different species.
The Birth of Venus painting is just one of many impressive Botticelli paintings which are well worth checking out in person if you get the chance to visit the beautiful city of Florence, where many of the artist's best works are now on display. The composition of this particular work full of artistic license which is used to demonstrate perfectly the message as meant by the painter.
We hope that this website has helped you to understand more about Botticelli's incredible Birth of Venus painting and that you feel a little closer to artist Botticelli now. It can never be a bad decision to buy a reproduction of this classic painting whose stylish finish and uplifting content remains timeless. as does Botticelli's career as a whole which continues to attract new fans every year, all across the world.
List of Famous Botticelli Paintings
Please see below for a summarised list of the best Botticelli paintings that are featured throughout this website.
- Birth of Venus
- Venus and Mars