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The Birth of Venus

From Sandro Botticelli to today

No need for an introduction, you’d know it as one of the most famous, celebrated and digitalized masterpieces of all time. Probably made in the mid 1480s by Sandro Botticelli, the painting depicts the goddess Venus arriving at the shore after her birth, when she had emerged from the sea fully-grown — called Venus Anadyomene and often depicted in art. In the centre the newly-born goddess Venus stands nude in a giant scallop shell. Its size is purely imaginary, and is also found in classical depictions of the subject. At the left the wind god Zephyr blows at her, with the wind shown by lines radiating from his mouth. He is in the air, and carries a young female, who is also blowing, but less forcefully. Both have wings. Vasari was probably correct in identifying her as “Aura”, personification of a lighter breeze. Their joint efforts are blowing Venus towards the shore, and blowing the hair and clothes of the other figures to the right.

At the right, a female figure who may be floating slightly above the ground holds out a rich cloak or dress to cover Venus when she reaches the shore, as she is about to do. She is one of the three Horae or Hours, Greek minor goddesses of the seasons and of other divisions of time, and attendants of Venus. The floral decoration of her dress suggests she is the Hora of Spring. The painting is in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

Although there are ancient and modern texts that are relevant, no single text provides the precise imagery of the painting, which has led scholars to propose many sources and interpretations. Many art historians who specialize in the Italian Renaissance have found Neoplatonic interpretations, of which two different versions have been articulated by Edgar Wind and Ernst Gombrich, to be the key to understanding the painting. Botticelli represented the Neoplatonic idea of divine love in the form of a nude Venus.

Whatever its meaning — we always like to think that Art is in the eye of the beholderThe Birth over the years became a board for many artists and creative people to apply their own way to see things, and maybe even a good chance to get off the side streets.

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