Dear Mr. McKay,
For my Age of Reason class, I’ve been reading your book, A History of Western Civilization, Volume B. While looking at one of the paintings shown in the book, I noticed a man on the edge of the painting. He kind of looks out of place, really— for starters, he’s not blue like the other grown male in the painting, and he’s also looking away from all the depicted ladies (including the Goddess of Love!), holding a scepter above his head like he’s measuring the wind-speed. And no, I checked, he is not wearing ski socks under Uggs, even though it looks like he is. The painting I’m talking about is Botticelli’s Primavera. I read the description, and while you go into wonderful detail about every other character in the picture, you say absolutely nothing about this young man. So, for possible use in a future edition, I’ve done some research about him for you.
http://onework.ru/botticelli-alessandro-sandro-1444-1510/botticelli-primavera-uffizi/ (the guy I’m talking about is on the far left).
First off, you should know that this young man really isn’t a man at all, and has two possible identities. Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker say that he is a depiction of Mars, the God of War, but Wikipedia claims that “This male figure is generally accepted as Mercury but has also been identified as Mars,” (Wikipedia). You can watch Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker’s video here. Perhaps you could talk about the mystery of this God’s identity in your next edition?
Another mystery you could discuss is the origin of the painting. Wikipedia tells me that Primavera seems to have been commissioned by the Medici family, but which member is uncertain. The two most likely possibilities are Lorenzo de’ Medici or his cousin Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici. Also, there is some confusion as to why it was commissioned in the first place. There’s a theory that it was initially for the birth of Lorenzo de’ Medici’s nephew, but after the death of Lorenzo’s brother, he differed the gift to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici’s marriage, (Wikipedia).
At Suite101.com I found something that might be interesting to mention: it is said that Mercury/Mars is guarding the garden of Venus (Suite101), and Dr. Harris suggests that he’s possibly guarding it from the clouds trying to enter (Harris). Also there’s been some speculation about the relationship between him and the Grace who is staring at him (her name is Chastity, in case you were wondering) which could be an interesting topic to cover (Suite101).
Thank you very much, and good luck on your next edition!
Barney, Emily. Detail from La Primavera: Mercury. N.d. N/A, unknown. flickr. Web. 5 Mar. 2012.
“Botticelli – the Philosophy Behind Primavera: Symbolism and Mythology in Renaissance Paintings | Suite101.com.” Thais Campos | Suite101.com. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar. 2012. <http://thaiscampos.suite101.com/botticelli–the-philosophy-behind-primavera-a191131>.
“Botticelli’s Primavera” (Video). Smarthistory.org. Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker. 1m45s to 1m51s. Accessed February 22, 2012, http://smarthistory.khanacademy.org/botticelli-primavera.html
McKay, John P.. A history of Western society. 9th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2008. Print.
“Primavera (painting) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 1 Mar. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primavera_(painting)>.