We see Venus – the marvelous goddess. The wind gods Zephyr and Aura are driving the shell to the shore. Where the seasons nymph Ora is waiting to cover her with a flower-patterned veil.
Venus is incredibly beautiful. This is one of the most enchanting images of the Renaissance era. If the goddess of love really existed, she would look just like this.
She couldn’t be more beautiful. But for the feet that Botticelli always shows in a special way. Apart from that, you can’t take your eyes off her.
How did he make it? Is it only her external beauty that has made this Venus so famous? And why do we see the same face in many of Botticelli’s paintings?
Botticelli and the Medici
The painting was created for one of the Medici dynasty representatives. They are worth being said a few words about. Since this masterpiece wouldn’t exist without them.
The Medici were bankers and handily ruled Florence state-city. But these people found the noblest application for their wealth.
They spent it on art. Since they understood that this is how they could buy immortality.
The most brilliant philosophers, artists, and poets were brought to the court. All of them ate from the Medici’s “feeder” receiving generous rewards for their creations.
Botticelli (1445-1510) was among them as well. He sincerely admired his customers. Their wisdom and generosity. And was eager to create paintings for them. Including his Venus.
Botticelli – an aesthete with a large A
Botticelli was an unsurpassed aesthete. His paintings are not just canvases pleasing to the eye. They are a hymn to beauty.
His characters’ traits look very pretty. Moreover, they are beautiful regardless of the era.
Raphael’s mild-tempered Madonnas could hardly be placed on the covers of modern fashion magazines. Even less could Rubens’s ample-bodied beauties. We would say that a different kind of beauty is appreciated nowadays.
But Botticelli managed to depict timeless beauty. It doesn’t look outdated to us at all.
Look at his angels and nymphs.
It’s a sheer pleasure to look at such faces. Botticelli glorified beauty. And was eager to bring this beauty to others.
But at the same time, Botticelli never crossed the line separating a true piece of art from empty decoration. Just a little bit more and we would say that such beauty is too mawkish. Why didn’t he cross that line?
Since his characters have the inner beauty as well. Which can be easily read in their eyes. Venus’s eyes are full of light sadness and loneliness. Together with kindness and ability to forgive. These are more the eyes of Madonna rather than a Greek goddess.
Venus or Madonna?
Botticelli’s Venus combines the external beauty of a goddess and the internal beauty of Madonna.
We see the eyes of a virtuous, mild-tempered, and gentle woman. A Greek goddess couldn’t look like that. After all, the pagan gods knew no compassion. It appeared together with Christianity.
It is not surprising that Botticelli gave the same beautiful face to almost all his Madonnas.
At the same time, Botticelli didn’t invent this image. He knew this woman. Endowed with an amazing combination of the external and internal beauty.
The story of her love and death left a lasting impression on the artist. Here she is, Simonetta Vespucci.
She was one of the most beautiful women in Florence. Giuliano Medici, the younger brother of the ruler of this state-city, was head over heels in love with her.
Most probably, their relationship was platonic. She was married. He was a noble knight. He proclaimed her his ladylove and fought bravely in tournaments. Very romantic. But there was atragedy ahead.
Simonetta died of consumption at 23. And Giuliano would die two years later on the day of her death. A conspirator attacked the head of the dynasty Lorenzo Medici with a knife. Giuliano rushed to cover his brother. And was stabbed to death.
Botticelli was friends with Giuliano. Therefore, this love story and the mystical coincidence of the death dates deeply struck him. Since then, Simonetta’s and Giuliano’s faces often appear in his paintings.
The birth of Venus wasn’t always a recognized masterpiece. Until the mid-19th century, Botticelli was believed to be a second-class master. No one crowded at the feet of his beautiful blonde goddess.
At that time, all the artists were keen on Raphael. Botticelli had a younger contemporary, Raphael. Who created just as beautiful Madonnas. And he had two substantial advantages over Botticelli.
Raphael used oil paints to create his masterpieces. Following Leonardo da Vinci. The thinnest glaze coats (translucent paint layers) made his characters look more alive.
While Botticelli still worked according to the old technology, using tempera paints. They dried quickly; therefore, they could be applied in one layer only. Which made the images look meagerand lifeless.
Botticelli managed to slightly revive his Venus using color in her cheek and fly-away hair.
And the second advantage of Raphael was his composition.
Botticelli is sometimes criticized for collage-like paintings. Indeed, composition wasn’t his strong point. Sometimes his characters are just standing in a row. For example, in his famous painting the Spring.
Raphael, however, created extremely complex compositions. Which were combined with beautiful and lively images and made him an exemplary master. Whose style many generations of artists strived to copy.
And after every gesture from Raphael’s paintings had been repeated a thousand times in other artists’ paintings, some of them said: Enough of that!
And decided to see how artists worked before Raphael. And discovered the Birth of Venus and the Spring by Botticelli.
This is how the Pre-Raphaelite movement emerged. That is, those artists who adopted techniques existing before Raphael.
In their paintings we see incredibly beautiful and sensual women. Just like in Botticelli’s case, they were muses. For example, Rossetti portrayed Elizabeth Siddal all his life. And Waterhouse painted Muriel Foster.
Botticelli’s world collapsed
There is another reason why Botticelli’s Venus was forgotten for a long time.
One day, a charismatic fanatic Savonarola appeared in Florence. Who began to denounce the rule of the Medici family in his sermons. And called for burning all the “vanities”, meaning luxuries.
Impressionable Botticelli succumbed to this influence. And burned many of his paintings. Gradually, beauty left his works. But the feeling of loneliness and sadness, which could be seen in Venus, further increased. That is how his Outcast was created.
This work is incredibly contrasting to Venus. Crumpled clothes, looking like thrown off. A blindwall with a piece of sky.
The clear and beautiful world was out of reach. There was no hope. Savonarola had been burned. As it usually happens to revolutionaries, he died at the hands of his own followers. And the splendid world at the Medici court had gone forever.
They were driven from the city in 1494, a year before the Outcast was created. And would return only in 1512. But Botticelli would no longer be alive.
To sum up
If you want to enjoy the beauty, Botticelli’s paintings are for you.
Botticelli’s Venus is one of the most beautiful images ever created. Together with Raphael’s Sistine Madonna.
The Pre-Raphaelites rediscovered Botticelli to the world. They continued his work, augmenting beauty by their works.
Read about another masterpiece of Botticelli “Spring”.
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Photos: Wikimedia Commons