THE BIRTH OF VENUS
The Birth of Venus was a revolutionary painting for its time, being the first large scale Renaissance painting with an exclusively secular and mythological subject. The people from all walks of life during the Renaissance had an admiration for ancient Greek and Roman civilization. Certainly the Medici family was not an exception to this rule. The Birth of Venus portrays one of the most picturesque myths of antiquity. The painting transports the viewer into a world of dreams and poetry. Venus is in the center, flanked by the West Wind and an attendant, Hour. The elongated figures float against a simple flat background, as though they were paper cutouts.
Botticelli chose to make Venus appear to be made from pure marble rather than flesh. She imitates the pose of a famous antique Roman statue, and the artist is thus making a learned cross-reference that he knew would be recognized. He has chosen a pose called the "Venus Pudica" (the modest Venus) in which the goddess chastely hides her body with her hands. Other artists chose a more sensual depiction called the "Venus Anadyomene" where she rises naked from the sea wringing the water from her long tresses. Botticelli's Venus represents an ideal of classical beauty that was greatly admired during the early Renaissance, especially in Florence. The artist softens this image by adding long flowing hair.
According to mythology the rose (sacred to Venus) was created at the same time as the goddess. The flower serves as the symbol of love, its thorns to remind us that love may be painful. The West Wind (zephyr) provides the breeze which blows Venus to shore. He is depicted here with his consort Chloris. An elegant nymph steps forward to receive Venus. She is one of the fours Hours, who were spirits personifying the seasons. She represents spring, the season of rebirth.
Note Botticelli's women often have faraway expressions, as though they have withdrawn into their own inner world and are lost in their own thoughts. Botticelli always emphasizes the bone structure under the flesh and his faces have elegant noses, high cheek bones and strong jaws. His paintings make use of clear precise outlines full of energy and tension. His figures have well manicured hands and feet with long fingers and toes.