Aglaia, Anemoi, Cupid, Early Renaissance, Euphrosyne, Florence, Giorgio Vasari, Greek Mythology, Lorenzo de' Medici, Mercury, Ovid, Primavera, Sandro Botticelli, Sistine Chapel, Tempera paint, Thalia, The Three Graces, Venus, Zephyrus
Posts on the Pietà and the David are coming, I know many of you really love those sculptures! After a few weeks on Michelangelo’s works, it would be nice to branch out into other wonderful Renaissance artists. And why not a contemporary of Michelangelo?
Botticelli was born in 1445 in Florence, and was originally trained to be a goldsmith. He began an apprenticeship at the age of 14, earlier than most of his contemporaries of the Early Renaissance. He was apprenticed to two individuals, one of whom took credit for some of the works Botticelli created. By 1470 Botticelli established his own workshop, and finished commissions for the Medici family upon request.
His skill was so proficient that he was called in by Pope Sixtus IV to paint one of the walls of the Sistine Chapel. He returned to Florence afterward, painting his two masterpieces for Lorenzo de’ Medici, Primavera and The Birth of Venus. Much of his influence had been overshadowed by his contemporaries, but with late 18th and 19th centuries saw a revitalizing interest in his artwork.
Primavera – Meaning and Analysis
Botticelli used tempera paint on canvas for Primavera. Tempera paint is a combination of a paint pigment and a water-soluble binding material (often a mixture of water and egg yolk). Today, acrylic or oil paints are chosen more often for their permanency: acrylic paint sinks into a canvas, while tempera paint is lighter and has a greater chance of chipping from the surface. But tempera paintings, when preserved well, can last for millennia. Tempera paint was used on Early Egyptian sarcophagi, and religious paintings as early as the first century CE. It is still used today, mainly in Greece and Russia in the production of Eastern Orthodox religious icons.
This painting is in fantastic shape. Botticelli never named this painting, later being called Primavera by the renown art historian Giorgio Vasari. While interpretations differ, there is strong consensus that this painting was intentionally allegorical to the emergence of springtime. Art historians generally attribute this painting as a Medici commission because of the orange grove behind the blindfolded putto. The Medici family, at the time, adopted the orange tree as its family symbol.
Another popularly accepted position is that the figures are Greek mythological deities. The central figure with the red dress is Venus, above her Cupid, her son, shooting an arrow at The Three Graces (Aglaia, Thalia, and Euphrosyne, daughters of Zeus). On the far left is Mercury, disbanding the clouds in the sky, which is why the sky on the left side of the painting is more clear than on the other ends.
The right side of the painting is generally considered to be an interpretation of a scene from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The blue woman on the right is Zephyrus, the Greek god of the West Wind. Zephyrus, sometimes called Zephyr, was one of the four Anemoi, the wind gods. She was the bringer of light Spring and early summertime. In the painting she is chasing after a nymph, who after being touched by her has flowers emerge from her mouth. Next to the nymph is a strikingly similar figure, likely the nymph after the transformation, decorated in an intricate floral gown, further adding to the painting’s theme of spring.
Seeing all these works and having the opportunity to stare at them comfortably without a crammed room is a fortune I’ll never forget. See you next week!