When you first see the painting The Birth of Venus, perhaps you are attracted by the naked woman standing in the middle. But, wait, why is her skin so pale, so “cadaverous” or “at least cold” (Pater, 46)? And why is she standing on an enormous seashell? Those are the questions I came up with when I first saw this painting.
So the naked woman in the painting, far from being corpse, is the immortal and beautiful goddess of love, Venus. This painting allegorically illustrates the mystery of the birth. It represents “the soul on the way to incarnation from the spiritual realms” (Bownman). The naked Venus, like a pure pearl, stands on the shell and emerges from the sea, which represents the act of incarnation. Her posture seems so charming and soft, and she is blown ashore by the winds. On the shore, the goddess of Spring, Hora, is ready to put a scarlet garment on Venus’ naked body.(Bownman)
If you know a little bit about the Renaissance history, you may be wondering, “Why this painting has a nude woman on it? Because nude women always symbolize sinful lust when they are depicted at that time.” The vital and gorgeous nude actually challenges the asceticism at that time. Moreover, this painting also allegorically symbolizes “a new Platonic way of looking at beauty” (Harris). It shows the idea of “divine beauty” (Bownman), which means that the beauty cannot be faked or born from a non-beauty. Sandro Botticelli uses the beauty of Venus to explain the idea of divine beauty because when Venus is born, she is perfect. This is a direct experience for people to comprehend the divine beauty from looking at this painting. (Beth)
I also captured some interesting pieces by looking at the painting. I don’t know whether my opinion makes sense, but it seems that there is a little sorrow on Venus’ face. Showed by her melancholy look, she seems like she isn’t sure about what her life is going to be like. I found a interesting article in Chinese about artists’ lives in the Renaissance (here http://news.xinhuanet.com/book/2005-04/20/content_2854612.htm ) (Sorry that it’s not in English…). The article tells us that the artists were actually struggling to earn more money in the Renaissance. After reading the article, I found out that Venus’ look reflects the fact that artists feel unconfident and unsafe about their lives in the Renaissance (Li).
Another important reason why I really like this painting is that, comparing to the inanimate book, the delighted and joyful paintings are much more attractive to people. Also, the painting always conveys some inexpressible idea to people. After I did all the research, I become to appreciate the painting more and more, and I think it’s a beautiful painting which should never be overlooked. I hope I will have a chance to see the real one in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.
A Neo-Platonic philosopher, Marsilio Ficino, wrote a fabulous description of Venus that I like a lot, which is that “Venus…is a nymph of excellent comeliness, born of heaven and more than others beloved by God all highest. Her soul and mid are Love and Charity, her eyes Dignity and Magnanimity, the hands Liberality and Magnificence, the feet Comeliness and Modest. The whole, then, is Temperance and Honesty, Charm and Splendor. Oh, what exquisite beauty…” (Janson, 444).
Beth, Harris, perf. Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1482. Perf. Chad Laird. Smarthistory Videos, 2011. Video. <http://vimeo.com/20087242>.
Bowman, David. “Birth of Venus and La Primavera Conjoined.” aiwaz.net. (2008): n. page. Print. <http://www.aiwaz.net/birth-of-venus-and-la-primavera-conjoined/a115>.
Pater, Walter. THE RENAISSANCE. Verona: Stamperia Valdonega, 1976.
Janson, H., and Anthony Janson. History of Art. fifth. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated, 1997. Print.
Li, Jihong. “The Birth of Venus.” Shi Ji Chu Ban Cooperation (2005): n. pag. Web. 2 Mar 2012. <http://news.xinhuanet.com/book/2005-04/20/content_2854612.htm>.