The Early Renaissance

 

                 

  


Botticelli


 
 

   
Renaissance Art Map
 
   
   
Exploration:
Candro Botticelly  "Visual Poetry"
 
 
    Early life and career    
    Devotional paintings     
    Secular patronage and works    
    Mythological paintings    
    How the Nymph became a Goddess    
    Botticelli: lyrical precision    
    Late works    
    Illustrations for Dante's Divine Comedy and Dravings    
         
    APPENDIX: Venus - The Evening Star
 
   

  


Sandro Botticelli

1445-1510
Italy

 
              

          
Sandro Botticelli

 
Primavera - Spring


How the Nymph became a Goddess

(by Rose-Marie and Rainer Hagen)

 

                             

 
 

Flora
       

Sandro Botticelli (detail)
Spring
1482

Sandro Botticelli (detail)
Spring
1482
       

Flora is smiling. Smiling figures are a rarity in Renaissance painting. Flora's manner is confident and full of natural charm, possibly resembling that of the young women who posed as the goddess on carnival floats. Perhaps Botticelli was inspired by a spring festival in which the figure of Love was celebrated with dancing, jousting and banquets in the streets. The festival is supposed to have lasted two months.
Festivals were especially frequent in Florence under the Medicis. Craftsmen had previously been responsible for large festivals in the town, but now the new rulers footed the bill. Tournaments in medieval style were highly popular, giving an otherwise unwarlike class of merchants the opportunity to show off their strength and skills, as well as demonstrate their adoration of women by performing various acts of chivalry. A tournament of this kind, in honour of Lorenzo the Magnificent, took place in 1469. Its motto was "The Return of Time": an allusion to the return of spring. This was followed in 1475 by a famous tournament in honour of Lorenzo's brother Giuliano. This time the motto was "She is Incomparable"; "she" was in fact Simonetta Cattaneo, wife of Vespucci. Naturally, it was Botticelli who painted Giuliano's standards, and Poliziano who composed a poem to celebrate the event!
There are good reasons for the festive spirit which flourished under Medici rule: firstly, there was the more general mood of revival, the sense of vision that existed throughout the Renaissance; secondly, the success, as well as youth, of the ruling family. Botticelli was 30 at the time of the 1475 tournament, Lorenzo the Magnificant 25, his brother Giuliano 21, Giuliano's lady Si-monetta 22, Poliziano 21, while Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco was only 12 years old.
Simonetta died a year after the tournament. Giuliano was murdered, and Lorenzo the Magnificent wrote: "How sweet is youth, how swift its flight!" Ovid says much the same thing. Flora advises us to "pluck's life's beauty while it blooms".

 

 
     

The brooch
 

Sandro Botticelli (detail)
Spring
1482
     

Botticelli's painting displays several examples of the goldsmith's art: Mercury's helmet and sword hilt, for example, or the brooches and necklaces of the Graces. Botticelli, once apprenticed to a goldsmith himself, was well acquainted with the craft.
This was not unusual at the time; several Florentine artists began their careers as goldsmiths. Painting pictures was considered the work of a craftsman - no different in status from the work of a smith. The term "art" had not yet gained currency. During the 15th century the Italian word "arte" connoted manual skill, a trade, a guild.
But the Renaissance changed all that. The rediscovery of Classical antiquity drew the attention of Botticelli's contemporaries to the enormous respect accorded artists during antiquity. They recalled that the Muses inspired artists, but not artisans. Artists gradually received a more privileged position and, as a consequence, better pay. Michelangelo, a generation after Botticelli, was the first artist to leap to fame
and riches. Pointing out that artists do not merely work with their hands, but also with their heads, Michelangelo set himself apart from the class of artisans.

 

               

        

 

Mercury
 

Sandro Botticelli (detail)
Spring
1482

Sandro Botticelli (detail)
Spring
1482
            

Botticelli "uses his head" in a distinctive manner. Well acquainted with the theoretical trends and rediscovered myths of his day, he incorporates ideas -some veiled, some self-evident — into his paintings: he encourages his spectators to think. Paintings, in the Middle Ages, were the object of contemplation. Their new role was to provoke thought.
One theoretical trend dominant at the Medici court, for example, attempted to bring Christian ideas into line with those of Greek philosophers. Botticelli allows this project to enter the picture in the shape of Venus, who bears a striking resemblance to the Virgin Mary. The figure's head is surrounded by a halo which can equally be seen as a space between branches.
Besides Cupid and the Graces, Venus' entourage also includes Mercury. He wears his traditionally winged shoes, and carries a wand with which to ward off clouds that might otherwise disturb eternal spring.
Contemporary symbolism made an upward gaze the sign of relations to the Beyond. This is congruent with the mythological attributes of Mercury, who acted as a messenger between humans and the gods and who guided the dead to the realm of shadows. Perhaps he signifies the transience of spring, the fugitive nature of youth, as lamented in Lorenzo's poem.
But Mercury was also the god of merchants, and was therefore hardly out of place at a wedding with a commercial background. Besides this, he - together with the goddess Flora and countless painted flowers - provides a further allusion to the wedding month: Mercury's day in the Roman calendar was 15th May; his mother was Maia who gave the month its name.
The artist speculated on his contemporaries' ability to recognize such allusions. He played cat and mouse with the spectators of his painting, refusing to commit himself. Here, too, Botticelli is in tune with contemporary theorists, one of whom wrote: "Divine things must be concealed under enigmatic veils and poetic dissimulation."

 

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