Famous Friday // The Birth of Venus


Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, tempera on canvas, 1482-85. Location: Ufizzi Gallery, Florence, Italy.

According to Homer, the goddess Venus was born from the foam of the sea. Shortly after her birth, according to legend, she rode on to the island of Cythera on a giant seashell. This is what Botticelli seems to have depicted in one of the most famous works of art that came from the Italian Renaissance, and was commissioned by a member of the Medici family.

Visually, we see Venus at the center of the painting, being guided by nymphs blowing wind to guide her. She is quickly approaching land where a figure is waiting for her. This figure is known as Pomona, who is the goddess of Spring. Pomona is holding a piece of cloth in order to cover Venus once she arrives on land.

One of the most important things to note about this painting is the obvious nudity of Venus. It was quite rare to depict a nude woman in a painting during the Middle Ages due to prominent Christian ideology. In order to appear more modest, Venus attempts to cover herself using her hair and her hands. This pose is referenced from the Venus de Medici, which Botticelli had the opportunity to study. However, Botticelli attempts to employ humanism techniques into The Birth of Venus. Humanism was a technique that typically referenced Greek and Roman myths. The resurrection of these myths led to the gradual acceptance of nude portraiture that was popular during antiquity.

It’s also important to note that this work was painted on canvas using tempura, which was quite rare for the time. Tempura is a type of paint made with egg whites, which allow for incredible transparency, and visually resembles an Italian fresco.

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