Dictionary of Art and Artists


that Changed the World


  Lascaux Caves Manesse illuminated Massys Callot Friedrich Picasso
  Tutankhamen's tomb Lorenzetti Grunewald Rembrandt Constable Matisse
  Europa and Minotaur Karlstein Castle Baldung Claude Lorrain Delacroix Marc
  Banquet Tomb Limbourg brothers Altdorfer Velazquez Turner Kandinsky
  Pompeii Van Eyck Cranach Vermeer Ingres Monet
  Birth of Christianity Della Francesca Holbein Rigaud Manet Chirico
  Hagia Sophia Uccello Titian Watteau Burne-Jones Modigliani
  Book of Kells Mantegna Bruegel Canaletto Seurat Chagall
  St Benedict Botticelli Vicentino Boucher Van Gogh Kahlo
  Bayeux Tapestry Anonymous Arcimboldo Fragonard Toulouse-Lautrec Dali
  Donizo manuscript Durer El Greco Gainsborough Munch Ernst
  Liber Scivias Bosch Theodore de Bry John Trumbull Cezanne Hopper
  Carmina Burana Da Vinci Caravaggio David Gauguin Bacon
  Falcon Book Michelangelo Rubens Gros Degas Warhol
  Giotto Raphael Brouwer Goya Klimt  

From Lascaux to Warhol

Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truth,
passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius,
but never abandoned.

William Butler Yeats




Venus: The Evening Star

The Goddess of Love and her mysterious origins



You might swear that the goddess [Venus] came out of the waves. Her right hand covering her breasts, she wants to enthral us. And wherever she plants her divine foot, flowers spring up to greet the skies.

Angelo Poliziano, The Realm of Venus, с 1475



Where Aphrodite stepped onto land: Petra tou Romiou, a beautiful bay in the south-west of Cyprus

Praxiteles, Medici Venus,
Roman Copy, Uffizi, Florence

The origins of the gods have always been a mystery and the origin of Venus is a particularly difficult case. Malicious tongues say that she came from the countryside. Probably a successor to an ancient mother goddess, she was venerated in what is now Italy as the patroness of gardens and vegetable farming — especially on Veneralia, the feast day of Venus, April I. In defence of her reputation, one should add that she lost her earthiness early on. Beginning in the fourth century ВС she was equated in Rome with Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, who was the patroness of coquettish young women, of laughter and fun, and of sweet desire and clemency.

Aphrodite's origins are also rather uncertain, and the various legends about her birth contradict one another. These stories agree about one thing, that Aphrodite emerged from the sea. According to the early Greek poet Hesiod, who established the family tree of the Olympian gods, Aphrodite was born of the foam which billowed up around the genitals of her castrated father Uranus, which were cast into the sea by his son Saturn (Cronus), who was responsible for this violent act. Another legend tells us that Aphrodite was born in a bivalve shell. The Italian Humanist poet Angelo Poliziano (Pollitian), who was an advisor at the Medici court in Florence, elaborated on these ancient tales in his writings:

"And born within [the white
in rare and joyous acts
a maiden with a heavenly race
by playful zephyrs
is pushed to the shore.
She travels on a sea-shell;
and it seems
that the heavens rejoice."

The zephyrs, blowing a strong wind, steer her "ship" towards the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, where she is greeted by nymphs, who are "surprised by joy at the sight of her" and dress her in a cloak decorated with flowers — for even the goddess of love cannot remain nude forever. The Italian Renaissance painter Allesandro Filipepi, later
known as
Sandro Botticelli, may well have taken Poliziano's poem as the literary model for his painting The Birth of Venus. Probably commissioned by the Medici family, the painting depicts the goddess as the personification of Love. She is to lead the Florentines, who at the time were growing increasingly enthusiastic about Greek philosophy, back to its loftiest ideals: goodness, truth and beauty.

Today the planet Venus, sometimes called the Evening Star, is not the only reminder of how important the goddess once was. The fifth day of the week also bears her name: "Friday", and the German "Freitag", derive from the name of the Teuton goddess Freya, who was equated with Venus. Friday in Italian, venerdi, and in French, vendredi; respectively have retained much of the original sound of "Venus", and both mean "Venus Day".


Sandro Botticelli
The Birth of Venus
c. 1485
Tempera on canvas
Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence


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