A Letter to McKay with a Side of Sass

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!



Works Cited:

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&gt;.

“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)&gt;.



  1. austin0907

    Hi Molly!
    Your blog post was really cute, and I liked the creative way you presented your information. Do you know what significance Mercury/Mars has to the painting? Also, why do you think McKay left it out?

  2. harry242424

    Hey Molly,
    I loved reading your blog! I had seen this painting before and noticed the odd man out as well. I like how you decided to put this in the form of a letter and I hope Mr. McKay does read this and puts some answers in his next volume. Does McKay explain the significance of the other characters in this piece of art or do you know?

    • mollyageofreason

      Hey Harry!
      Thanks for reading! It would be cool if Mr. McKay read it :). McKay does explain a lot about the other characters. However, his descriptions seem to focus a lot more about telling us who’s who (like, this guy here is Zephyrus. This is cupid), instead of how they’re connected to each other, which to me is more interesting. If you’d like to read his description, it’s on page 422 of our textbook.
      Thanks for your comment!

  3. mollyageofreason

    Hi Austin!
    Thanks for your comment, and Ms. Walsh came up with the idea or a letter format! There’s a lot of discussion over this painting, mainly that Mars/Mercury is protecting Venus’ garden. If it really is Mars, in Greek mythology, the equivalents of Mars and Venus (Ares and Aphrodite) had quite the relationship, so it could be that he’s on honored guest, and sort of a regular in her garden- it would be weird not to have him there. Mars and Venus are shown together in another one of Botticelli’s paintings; here’s the link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venus_and_Mars_(Botticelli). I think McKay might have left it out because of the uncertainty surrounding Mercury/Mars’ identity- imagine reading something like, “The man on the left is Mars/Mercury. Mars/Mercury is wearing the traditional dress of…”. That would get very tiring to read really quickly!
    Thanks for your comment, and I hope that (sort of) answered your question!

  4. amandagowithit

    Haha, great post and the sassiness just made it even better. I liked all the things you had to mention in your post, but do you think he left out the man on the left for reason though? Just like paintings though, they all have meanings and reasons for the art so maybe that was the same intention or he wanted us to wonder ourselfs? Overall, lovely & funny post!


    • mollyageofreason

      Hey Amanda! Thanks for your comment, and reading! While I do think it’s possible he left the Mercury/Mars out for a reason, I think it’s pretty unlikely. Even if he did want us to wonder for ourselves, he probably would have at least given us a name or some mention that he even exists- as it was, I was wondering if I was going crazy and imagining up figures in Renaissance art. That feeling wasn’t helped when the smarthistory video started with the left side of the painting cut off.
      Thanks for your thought-provoking comment!

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