When you think about Italy’s most beautiful - and, in this case, most famous - paintings, Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is one of the first to come to mind. Painted around 1485, this icon of the Italian Renaissance is on display inside the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, where it stars as a must-see of the museum’s visit (which means you can usually just get a glimpse of it because the crowds in front of it are so thick).
The painting depicts the landing of newly-born Venus, goddess of love and beauty, on the island of Cyprus, driven forward by the winds Zephyr and, possibly, Aura. The goddess stands on top of the valve of a shell, looking pure and perfect. A young woman, sometimes identified as one of the Three Graces, welcomes her, handing her a mantle sprinkled with flowers; the roses carried by the winds also recall the spring season.
During the Renaissance, artists rediscovered Greek and Roman art and culture (previously, in large part, demonized by the Church), so painters were often inspired in their work by Greek and Roman mythology. By depicting the birth of the goddess of love and beauty, Botticelli symbolizes the birth of the universal ideal of beauty. To paint Venus, he is thought to have been inspired by Simonetta Cattanei, considered one of the most beautiful women of the Renaissance.
Botticelli takes inspiration from statues of the classical era for the modest attitude of Venus, who covers her nakedness with her long blond hair, whose light reflections are obtained through the application of gold; the couple of Winds flying embraced is a quote from an ancient work, owned by Lorenzo the Magnificent.
It is likely that the Birth of Venus was commissioned by a member of the Medici family. To further support this thesis is the depiction of orange trees, considered a Medici emblem on account of the similar sounds between the word ‘Medici’ and the one by which these trees were known at the time - 'mala medica’.
Credit: Italy Magazine