Botticelli's The Birth of Venus

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 October, 2005, 12:00am

Who? Sandro Botticelli

When? circa 1485-86

Where? Italy

Sandro Botticelli's real name was Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, but he is known by his nickname which means 'little barrel'.

He was very successful at the peak of his career. The Birth of Venus is probably his most loved painting. Venus tells the story of an ancient myth - that of the goddess Venus rising from the sea.

Botticelli was Christian, but during the Renaissance (mid-1400s to late 1500s), scholars started paying attention to ancient Greek and Roman writings as they believed these civilisations were superior.

The scholars saw Venus as a figure of divine beauty and love.

Botticelli painted Venus with graceful curves and long, flowing hair. She is so beautiful that we do not at first notice that her neck is too long or that her arms are unnaturally attached to her body.

Unlike most painters at this time, Botticelli did not focus on getting the perspective right. His figures are floating in the foreground of the picture. The feeling that the painting arouses is more important than its accuracy.

On the left is Zephyr, the west wind in Greek mythology, who is blowing Venus to shore. Chloris, with her arms wrapped around him, is his wife and the goddess of flowers and spring.

The nymph on the right might be one of the Greek goddesses of the seasons who were attendants to Venus.

Her extravagantly decorated dress and the gorgeous robe she holds out to Venus are embroidered with red and white daisies, blue cornflowers and yellow primroses - all spring flowers which suggest birth.

The ring of leaves around her neck are myrtle - the tree of Venus.

Botticelli painted roses falling from the sky around Venus because, according to legend, roses came into being at her birth. The roses have gold centres, and Botticelli uses gold throughout the painting to highlight how precious Venus is.

This painting captures the moment in the myth when Venus steps from her shell onto the shores of Cyprus.

Through the curving lines of her hair, the fluttering robe and Zephyr's breath, there is a gentle sense of movement, like a delicate being is stepping into the world as a gift from God.