“Spring” by Botticelli. The main characters and symbols

Botticelli Spring
Sandro Botticelli. Spring. 1478. The Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Only few people knew about Botticelli’s “Spring” for as long as… 450 years!

At first, it was housed by Medici descendants. Later, it was moved to the Uffizi Gallery. However… You won’t believe it – it had been stored in repository for 100 years!

And only in the early 20th century it was introduced to the public after it had been recognized by a famous art expert. This is how its fame began.

Nowadays, it is one of the main masterpieces of the Uffizi Gallery. And one of the best-known paintings of the Renaissance era.

But it’s not so easy to “read” it. It seems to tell us about spring. But we see lots of characters here.

Why are there so many of them? Why didn’t Botticelli portray only one girl representing Spring?
Let’s try to make it clear.

Botticelli. Spring (the painting guide)
Botticelli. Spring (the painting guide). 1482. The Uffizi Gallery, Florence

To make it easier to read the painting, in your mind you should divide it in three parts:

The right part consists of three characters, who personify the first spring month MARCH.

1. ZEPHYR

Zephyr – the god of the western wind – begins to blow in early spring. He is the one we start reading the painting with.

He has the most unpleasant appearance among all the characters. The bluish skin tone. The cheeks are about to burst from the strain.

But it is explainable. This wind wasn’t pleasant for the ancient Greeks, since it often brought rains and even storms.

He handled both humans and divine creatures without mittens. He fell in love with nymph Chloris, and she had no chance to escape from Zephyr.

2. CHLORIS

Zephyr forced this gentle creature responsible for flowers to become his wife. And to somehow compensate her moral turmoil, he turned the nymph into a real Goddess. Thus, Chloris turned into Flora.

3. FLORA

Flora (nee Chloris) didn’t regret the marriage, though she had married Zephyr against her will. Obviously, she was a mercantile girl. After all, it had become much more powerful.

From now on, she was responsible not only for flowers, but for all the vegetation on Earth.

Melzi Flora
Francesco Melzi. Flora. 1510-1515. The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg

The next five characters make up the APRIL group. These are Venus, Cupid and the Three Graces.

4. VENUS

Goddess Venus is responsible not only for love, but for fertility and prosperity as well. So, she is depicted here for a reason. The ancient Romans held a celebration in her honour particularly in April.

5. CUPID

The son of Venus and her eternal companion. It’s a common knowledge that this unbearable boy is especially active in spring. He shoots his arrows every which way.

Of course, he doesn’t even see, whom he is going to hit. Love is blind, since Cupid is blindfolded.

6. THE GRACES

Most likely that Cupid is going to hit one of the Graces. She is already looking at a young man to the left.

Botticelli Spring fragment
Sandro Botticelli. Spring (a fragment). 1478. The Uffizi Gallery, Florence

Here, Botticelli showed three sisters holding each other’s hands. They personify the beginning of life – beautiful and gentle due to its youth.

They also often accompany Venus and help to disseminate her messages to all people.

MAY is represented by a single figure. But what a figure!

7. MERCURY

Mercury – the god of commerce – dispels clouds with his rod. Well, not so bad to help Spring. He is related to her only through his mother, pleiade Maya.

It was in her honour that the ancient Romans called this month May. And they offered sacrifices to Maya on the 1st of May.

The case is that she was responsible for the soil fertility and people couldn’t do without it during the forthcoming summer.

So, why did Botticelli depicted her son, but not Maya herself? By the way, she was charming – the eldest and the most beautiful of the 10 sisters pleiades.

Botticelli Mercury
Sandro Botticelli. Mercury (a fragment of the painting “Spring”). 1478 . The Uffizi Gallery, Florence

I like the version that Botticelli was eager to show men at the beginning and at the end of this spring line.

Indeed, Spring is the birth of life. And this process is impossible without men (at least in the artist’s days).

After all, he depicted all women pregnant for a reason. Fertility is very important in spring.

Botticelli Spring detail
Sandro Botticelli. A detail of the painting “Spring”. 1478

In general, Botticelli’s “Spring” is full of fertility symbols. There is an orange tree above the characters’ heads.

It is blooming and bearing fruit at the same time. Not only in the picture: it really can do it.

Botticelli Spring detail
Sandro Botticelli. A detail of the painting “Spring”. 1478. The Uffizi Gallery, Florence

It will just suffice to mention a carpet of five hundred really existing flowers!

It’s just a kind of floristic encyclopaedia. Only their Latin names are missing.

The characters have done their best – there is plenty of fertility wherever they step!

And the characters’ beauty (apart from Zephyr) is extremely suitable for the Spring theme.

Botticelli. Spring (details)

As always, Botticelli managed to show the beauty that never goes out of fashion. His characters are so beautiful that it useless even to wonder why are we so fond of “Spring” so much.

So, the artist skipped the shortcuts. It wasn’t enough for him to portray a single beautiful woman and call her “Spring”.

He “sang” the whole ode to this time of the year. A complicated, multisided, and incredibly beautiful one.

Authour: Oksana Kopenkina

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