The Birth of Venus

"Florence 1899"

The Birth of Venus was painted by Sandro Botticelli in 1885. The following passages are from Ronald Lightbown's Sandro Botticelli, Vol. I (University of California Press, 1978).

The incomparable Birth of Venus was already at Castello in c. 1530-40, and for this reason Horne suggested that it too was painted for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco. This suggestion has been universally accepted, but we now know that no picture resembling it is mentioned in the inventory of 1499, which appears to contain a full list of the works of art belonging to the junior branch of the Medici. The conclusion must be that it was painted for some other patron and later passed into the hands of Duke Cosimo de' Medici or his father Giovanni by inheritance or purchase. ...A little smaller than the Primavera, measuring 9 ft 1/4 in by 5 ft 6 3/4 in, it is painted on canvas...

...Venus stands in contrapposto, her body almost imperceptibly turned in the first graceful motion of stepping on to the shore, her right foot poised on the rim, her left on the brown curl of the underside. With head inclined to the left, she gazes modestly downwards, partly concealing her breasts with her right hand and the lower part of her belly and thighs with the long thick back trees, bound with white at the top, of her heavy golden hair. The pose, as has long been realized, is borrowed from some antique Venus pudica, such as the celebrated Venus de' Medici. ...

The breeze that ruffles her hair as it wafts her to the shore is the breath of Zephyr, issuing in a thin grey jet from his puffed cheeks as he flies behind her. ... Throwing out his right hand to balance himself - a gesture which illuminates just how much precise observation Botticelli transmuted into the grace of his figures - with his left hand he clasps to the perfect brown nudity of his body the golden-haired Chloris, who winds her arm about his chest and gazes, mouth parted in admiration, at the beauty of Venus. ... Around and in front of them falls a shower of pink roses - according to ancient myth roses were born at the same time as Venus - each with a heart of gold, their stems and leaves of dark green heightened with gold.

On the grass-grown shelf of rock a barefoot, golden-haired nymph steps eagerly forward to receive Venus. ... Round her neck is a broad girdle of pink roses, round her neck a garland of myrtle, the tree of Venus. ... She must be one of the three Horae, or Hours, who like the three Graces were attendants of Venus, for she wears the embroidered dress which Ovid described the Hours as wearing in a later part of the very same speech of Flora that Botticelli illustrates in the Primavera. ... The Hora's robe and cloak are embroidered with spring flowers, she wears a girdle of roses, and under her feet is another spring flower, the blue anemone, so we are almost certainly right in identifying her as the Hora of Spring.

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