The painting the Birth of Venus created by Sandro Botticelli shows the goddess Venus emerging from the sea in her clamshell. It is believed to have been commissioned by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de'Medici for his Villa di Castello. Others speculate that it was painted in honor of Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci, a love of both Giuliano di Piero de’ Medici and the artist Botticelli, who lived in a seaside town that revered the Venus. Those who favor this story believe that Simonetta herself was the model for Venus.
The painting shows the story of how Venus was born of the sea and arose fully grown from its waves. The goddess of love and beauty in the image is shown emerging from the water on her shell, propelled to shore by the Zephyrs (spiritual passion symbols). A Horae or goddess of the season is with her, handing Venus a cloak. The images are more pagan in theme than the Roman Catholicism that was popular in the art world at the time. Botticelli was allowed to make this break due to a close friendship with Lorenzo de Medici, who protected him from the church's disapproval and saved the painting from the fires of Savonarola.
The pose of the Venus in the image is similar to that of the Medici Venus statue that was in the Medici collection at the time. Venus was a hot subject matter during this era as France was clinging to its own statue, the Venus de Milo. The painting was originally titled Venus Anadyomene as the latter word means “rising from the sea". The better known title didn't come into existence into the 19th century. The sea shell was known to represent the vulva of a woman and was a theme that occurred throughout classical antiquity.
Venus’ proportions in the painting are somewhat off. Her neck is too long and her sloping left shoulder does so at an angle that wouldn't be likely in real life. She is centered in the painting and covers her nudity with her hands hand hair. The breeze that brings her to shore lifts some of that hair. There are rose blossoms blowing through the air. The colors of the painting are bright pastels with Venus’ bright pale skin and golden hair drawing the attention to the center.
There are other works of art that bears the name of The Birth of Venus. Painter Alexandre Cabanal created another take on the Venus creation story in 1863. William-Adolphe Bouguereau created his own version of the painting in 1879. Botticelli's version has been referenced in various forms of media. The films Dr. No and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen feature tributes to the painting. In Vladimir Nabokov's book Lolita, the central character of Humbert Humbert compares his love's beauty to the goddess. In Thomas Pynchon's book V, a character attempts to steal the painting in a representation of the attraction and destruction between the genders. In the Vampire Chronicles by Ann Rice, a character knows Botticelli and comments on the work.
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