Mound of Venus

The Birth of Venus (Botticelli)

The Birth of Venus is a painting by Sandro Botticelli. It depicts the goddess Venus, having emerged from the sea as a full grown woman, arriving at the sea-shore (Venus Anadyomene motif). The painting is currently in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Origins

This large picture may have been, like the Primavera, painted for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici's Villa di Castello, around 1482, or even before. Some scholars suggest that the Venus painted for Lorenzo and mentioned by Giorgio Vasari may have been a different work, now lost. Some experts believe it to be a celebration of the love of Giuliano di Piero de' Medici (who died in the Pazzi conspiracy in 1478) for Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci, who lived in Portovenere, a town by the sea with a local tradition of being the birthplace of Venus. It must be noted that Botticelli himself also privately loved the beautiful Simonette, who was de' Medici's mistress. Whatever inspired the artist, there are clear similarities to Ovid's Metamorphoses and Fasti, as well as to Poliziano's Verses. Simonetta is also believed to have been the model for Venus in this painting, as well as for several other women in other Botticelli works, such as Primavera.

The classical goddess Venus emerges from the water on a shell, blown towards shore by the Zephyrs, symbols of spiritual passions. She is joined by one of the Horae, goddesses of the seasons, who hands her a flowered cloak.

The effect is distinctly pagan, considering it was made at a time and place when most artworks depicted Roman Catholic themes. It is somewhat surprising that this canvas escaped the flames of Savonarola's bonfires, where a number of Botticelli's other alleged pagan influenced works perished. Botticelli was very close to Lorenzo de Medici. Because of their friendship and Lorenzo's power, this work was spared from Savonarola's fires and the disapproval of the church.

The anatomy of Venus and various subsidiary details do not display the strict classical realism of Leonardo da Vinci or Raphael. Most obviously, Venus has an improbably long neck, and her left shoulder slopes at an anatomically unlikely angle. Some have suggested it prefigures mannerism.

Classical inspiration

The painting was one of a series which Botticelli produced, taking as inspiration written descriptions by the 2nd century historian Lucian of masterpieces of Ancient Greece which had long since disappeared. The ancient painting by Apelles was called Venus Anadyomene, "Anadyomene" meaning "rising from the sea"; this title was also used for Botticelli's painting, The Birth of Venus only becoming its better known title in the 19th century. 'The Birth of Venus' is very similar to Praxiteles' Aphrodite, a statue.

A mural from Pompeii was never seen by Botticelli, but may have been a Roman copy of the then famous painting by Apelles which Lucian mentioned.

In classical antiquity, the sea shell was a metaphor for a woman's vulva.

The pose of Botticelli's Venus is reminiscent of the Venus de Medici, a marble sculpture from classical antiquity in the Medici collection which Botticelli had opportunity to study.

In popular culture

Reproductions and variations on Botticelli's famous painting have been numerous in popular culture, including in advertising and motion pictures. Notable examples include:

Film

  • A scene in the 1962 James Bond film Dr. No with Ursula Andress rising from the sea was inspired by the painting.
  • The scene was recreated in more detail in the 1988 film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, with Uma Thurman as Venus.
  • In Ken Russell's 1971 film The Devils, Louis XIII of France first appears in a court tableau/ballet as Botticelli's Venus emerging on stage from a giant half shell à la Bette Midler.
  • A scene in the 1991 film L.A. Story, a mural at the skate park depicts Venus wearing contemporary clothing and roller skates.
  • In Marleen Gorris' 1995 film Antonia, Danielle has a vision, she sees the teacher Ms. Anderson as the famous Venus arising from the conch shell (as painted by Boticelli).

Television

Music

Books

  • The "Kilgore Trout" novel Venus on the Half-Shell is titled from a jocular nickname for the painting.
  • In a scene near the end of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, the main character Humbert Humbert decides that Lolita has a striking similarity to Botticelli's Venus.
  • A subplot of Thomas Pynchon's novel V. centers on an attempt by a love-struck character to steal the painting from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. The scene underscores the paradoxical attraction and destruction of men to women, a key theme in the novel.
  • The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant contains many references to Sandro Boticelli and the de' Medici family. Most of the references contain mention of Venus' birth and how she is an extremely great and terrible being at the same time.
  • In the Sarah Waters' novel, Tipping the Velvet, the main character is compared to the birth of Venus.
  • In Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles, the character of Marius de Romanus is acquainted with Botticelli and is a great fan of his work, especially the painting. He points out several times the resemblance between Botticelli's Venus another character in the book, Bianca.
  • The cover of Robert Heinlein's To Sail Beyond the Sunset depicts the main character of the novel, Maureen Johnson Smith Long in the role of Venus in an homage to the painting.

Other

  • A stylized face of Venus is depicted on the reverse of the Italian-issue 10 cent euro coin.
  • Starting with version 1.0, Adobe chose to license an image of Venus from the Bettmann Archive and use the portion containing Venus' face as the branding image for its Illustrator graphics software.
  • In the video game Portal, an early conceptual design for the character GLADoS is described by the developers as having been "An upside-down version" of Botticelli's painting "built out of electrical parts".

External links

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