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04 June 2012

ArtOdysseys—Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus' at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence

Close-up view of Venus in Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus.' Photo: Wikimedia. 

Once again my friends, it's time for the monthly installment of ArtOdysseys—my ongoing series that unites my love of art and travel. This month's focus in "paintings." With that said, I invite you on an odyssey to Florence, the Uffizi Gallery actually, to discover one of my all-time favorite masterpieces by Botticelli! Enjoy the tour and be sure to click on the links at the end of this feature to read my colleagues' contributions as well.


The Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, City Centre. Content is property of EuroTravelogue™ unless noted. Unauthorized use is prohibited. 

Undoubtedly, one of the main attractions on all Florentine itineraries is a visit to the Uffizi Gallery near the Piazza della Signoria in the Florence city center. Renowned for its vast collections of art amassed by the Medici's during their reign of Florence, the Uffizi Gallery is a journey through art history from the ancients to the Gothic to the Baroque, and all of the masterpieces are here including the subject of this article, Botticelli's "Birth of Venus." But first, a brief history of the Uffizi.

History

Established by the Medici in 1581, the Uffizi Gallery was commissioned by the patriarch of the de Medici's Cosimo I in 1560. Designed by Georgio Vasari, a renowned artist of the day and one of Cosimo's favorites, the gallery was intended to serve as uffizis or offices of the high-ranking Florentine magistrates however, due to the ever-expanding Medici art collection, it was decided that this new building would house the collection, both purchased and commissioned. It wasn't until the Medici fell out of power that Anna Maria Luisa, the last Medici heiress, established the museum through a family pact that dictated all of her possessions were never to leave Florence; and thus the Uffizi Gallery opened its doors to the public in 1765. The rest as they say is history.

Sandro Botticelli's "Birth of Venus"


Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus' shown in its entirety. Photo: Wikimedia. 

Side by side and larger than life, there they hang on the walls of the Uffizi Gallery, Botticelli's "Primavera" and "Birth of Venus." Strikingly beautiful and rich in details and vibrant color, the “Birth of Venus” tells the story of Venus who arrives on the first day of creation, floating in a shell on the foamy waves of the sea with the winds of Zephyr and Aura blowing her ashore. Painted on canvas c. 1484, this Botticelli masterpiece was commissioned by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici, cousin to Lorenzo the Great, and is painted on canvas that stretches 5 feet, 6 inches tall by 9 feet wide. It was believed that this and the "Primavera" were part of a much grander series that Botticelli was planning, but this theory has fallen out of favor with the art historian majority and the two were probably intended as wedding gifts to Lorenzo the Great, although that fact is disptuted as well.

Botticelli paints our beloved Venus arriving on the shores of Cythera or Cyprus and to her right is Thallo, one of the Horea or goddesses of the seasons and time, who rushes to offer covering to the very naked Venus. While some believe her to be one of the "Three Graces" (Beauty, Charm or Creativity), the former is now widely accepted. Botticelli modeled Venus after the "Chaste Venus," or also known as the "Medici Venus," a bronze statue similar in pose and owned by the Medici at the time.

Corroborating the widely-accepted belief that this painting is based purely on fantasy, the evidence shows the physical characteristics of the main subjects are not grounded in physics at all. For one, look closely at Venus' body, it's not anatomically accurate; especially evident in her elongated and somewhat disturbing curvature of her neck, not to mention the fact that her contrapposto (supported by one leg) is not realistic because her lean extends too far to her left.

As for color, to achieve a state of transparency tying into the watery-themed composition, Botticelli mixed egg yolk and light tempura to render the colors in such exquisite translucence.


Close-up view of Venus' elongated neck. Photo: Wikimedia. 

Interpretation

Still debated to this day is the overall meaning of this painting however, consensus is that it represents Love or the union of the physical and spiritual desires—from earthbound pleasures to a state of higher understanding or the realm of divine love. From a religious point of the view, Venus represents Eve in the Garden of Eden—her wraps represent her inevitable plight to commit mortal sin. Even more views state that Venus represents the pure Virgin Mary while her new robes establish the connection to the earthly Christian church, or once again, the union between the physical and the spiritual divine. What I loved most about the religious interpretation is how they explained "the sea brings forth Venus or love, and Mary brings forth the ultimate gift of love—Jesus Christ."

Regardless of the criticism and the various interpretations of the "Birth of Venus," it's a painting that I admire for its sheer beauty, exquisite technique, and ethereal quality. This joins a long list of paintings that I have come to love over time and to experience its richness in person is something I will cherish always! I hope you enjoyed this look at Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" and should you find yourself in Florence, I encourage you to seek out the Uffizi Gallery and discover art in your travels too!


A little fun with one of the 'Living Statues' outside the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.  

A few tips before you go:

  • I strongly recommend a guided tour for your first visit to make the most of your time at the gallery. These tours not only grant you “front of the line” access but allow for interaction between you and your guide to make your visit more meaningful in the end. Visit Avventure Bellissimi for a popular tour that includes a guided city walk in the morning, followed by a tour of Accademia Gallery to see the "David." After lunch, it's on to the Uffizi.
  • Book your museum reservations in advance to avoid the three-hour queue that forms in the morning. You can do this online or call the museum directly. Tip: If you are staying in Florence, some hotels will book your reservations for you. Simply ask the front desk and save the online fee.
  • Leave your camera in your hotel room because no pictures are allowed at the Uffizi or Accademia Museum.

Art Aficionados:

Please join us once again next month.

24 comments:

  1. A wonderfully-detailed post, Jeff, thanks for that. The architectural shot of the museum is super. This painting qualifies as a destination in itself; once seen, never forgotten!

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    1. Hi there Lesley and thank you so much for your comments and compliments. I totally agree with you in that the Birth of Venus is truly a destination and never forgotten. I even have a print in a gorgeous frame in my living room that I picked up during my last visit to Florence. It's superb!! Thx again.

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  2. Hope that statue was not trying to break your neck. hahahaha. Great pics, as usual. I love that particular Botticelli painting. Gorgeous!

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    1. Hi Marlys!! How funny you are my friend. Thank you for stopping by and for your kind words!

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  3. The "Birth of Venus" is a just beautiful. Such artistic genius! Very interesting to get more background on it as well as your personal perspectives. That living statue likes you, I think.

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    1. Hi there Cathy and thanks so much for stopping by to share your perspectives as well! It really is a gorgeous masterpiece. And yes, we had so much fun with the living statues that day...lots of great ones and great pics too!

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  4. The repeating s-curves of Venus's body and hair as well as the clothes, hair, and wings just makes such a peaceful composition. I like his Mannerist style compared to a more "accurate" body.

    That tempera paint? That stuff does not chip. Egg yolk as a binder makes an incredibly durable paint. Unlike a fresco or watercolor. Just a random factoid. :)

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    1. Hi Erin and thank you for all of your comments and your factoids!! I love to learn from readers about their unique perspectives on all kinds of art. Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to share your thoughts!!

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  5. It's hard not to love Botticelli, even when you prefer 20th C art ;-) Are you familiar with John Spencer Stanhope? He's a British artist - late 19th C - who drew a lot from Botticelli's work. My favorite painting of his is called "Love and the Maiden"...which is at the Legion of Honor here in San Francisco (lucky me!).

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    1. Hi there Ashley!! I know what you mean about loving Botticelli!! I have a number of prints of his in my house...and love them all. I will definitely have to check out John Spencer Stanhope and "Love and the Maiden." And you have him right there with you in San Fran. You certainly are a lucky girl my friend!! Thx so much for stopping by to share your comments and recommendations.

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  6. How very enjoyable to have one painting presented in detail. At the Uffizi there's neither time nor place to linger.

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    1. Hello there my friend and thx so much for stopping by to share your thoughts!! The secret to the Uffizi as you probably know, is to first attend a guided tour thru the museum and then return when you can take your time to linger!! It's what I did and well worth it!!

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  7. Just 2 words: you're awesome! Thank you for such detailed and great info. Is really diverse to read articles like this from fellow bloggers. Pretty refreshing to get this kind of stuff! :D

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    1. Mariana, I am so honored by your compliment. It means the world to me!! I was also honored when my colleagues asked me to join the ArtSmart Roundtable so your words go a long way with me!!! Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!!

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  8. Great post, Jeff. I will never forget coming upon the 2 large Botticelli paintings for the first time. His work is so delicate and ethereal. Definitely one of my favorites.

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    1. Hi there Jenna and thanks so much for your kind words!!! And, I couldn't agree with you more about first impressions...the two paintings took my breath away. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your experiences!

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  9. Haha Jeff that last picture is the best thing I've ever seen, lol. Thank you for this article - everyone (including my tour guide when I visited the Uffizi a few years ago) talks about what's inside rather than the history of the building itself, which is fantastic. I'm so glad you addressed it, I didn't know half this stuff!

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    1. Hi there Leslie and thank you so kindly for stopping by to share your thoughts. And I am so glad I was able to teach you something new as well. Comments like these really make my day!!!

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  10. Great post! I remember well my first visit to the Uffizi, several years ago. I made my poor companion get up at the crack of dawn (at around 5:30am) and meet me so early that we would be the first ones in, and I never forgot my first acquaintance with Botticelli's Venus. A magnificent museum to house such a worthy painting!

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    1. Hi there my Charu and thank you for stopping by. Wow..up at 5:30 am? We did that for the Vatican "free day at the museum" the last time we were in Rome...you can always sleep later but getting up to see these places is so well worth the effort! And the rewards?? Well, you know as well as I. Thx for sharing your experiences!!

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  11. Hi Jeff - Happy Sunday to you! I recently read a novel by Italian author Marina Firato - "The Botticelli Secret" - she wrote it based on this painting. Very good read! As always, love your post! ~ Annie

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    1. Hi there my friend!! Thank you so much for stopping by and for your kind words! I will need to have a look at the book you mentioned above. Sounds fascinating and would love to learn even more about one of my all-time favorite paintings! Thx again Annie!!

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  12. A classic painting! Love the idea of Art Smart-- a great way to celebrate fine art on social media :)

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    1. Hi there Leslie! Thank you so much for stopping by and for your kind words! I sure hope you continue to follow our monthly ArtSmart Roundtable features,

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Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!