|Close-up view of Venus in Botticelli's 'Birth of Venus.' Photo: Wikimedia.|
What is the ArtSmart Roundtable?
Once again my friends, it's time for the monthly installment of ArtSmart Roundtable—a collaboration between my fellow bloggers and I who together share our discoveries of art while traveling around the world. We've turned the tables this month though, so to speak, and instead of publishing our monthly features on the last Monday of the month, it is now the first Monday and the topic for June is "paintings." With that said, I invite you on a journey to Florence and to the Uffizi Gallery 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.
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.|
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.
ArtSmart Roundtable Contributors:
- Museum of Art in São Paulo, Brazil from This Is My Happiness
- What Happens When You Piss Off Whistler from No Onions Extra Pickles
- The Garden of Earthly Delights from A Sense of Place
- Klimt Spotting in 2012 from Travellious
- Midnight in Paris in La Belle Époque from Leslie at CG Travels