La Nascita di Venere, by Alessandro Botticelli depicts the goddess Venus emerging from the sea as a fully grown woman like something from a James Bond movie!
Venus is the Roman goddess of love and had two aspects: Firstly, an earthly goddess who aroused humans to physical love; secondly, a heavenly goddess who inspired intellectual love. The most enduring interpretation of Botticelli’s, The Birth of Venus, is Neoplatonic – a view based on Plato’s idea that physical beauty allowed the mind to better understand spiritual beauty, thus looking at a beautiful Venus in this masterpiece leads the viewer to think about her creator.
During the Renaissance, spectators would feel their minds lifted to divine love, though nowadays many scholars believe The Birth of Venus and Primavera, both by Sandro Botticelli, work as wedding paintings that suggest appropriate behaviour for brides and grooms. Vasari saw the painting as The Arrival of Venus; her pose resembles the Venus de Medici which is a marble structure from classical antiquity in the Medici family collection and Botticelli did study this.
The sea-shell was often used as a metaphor for a woman’s vulva and the central figure in the painting is similar to a Praxiteles sculpture of Aphrodite – the Greek goddess of love and Ancient Greece’s equivalent to Venus!
Botticelli’s curious flatness, linearity and two dimensional style, replicates classical antiquity of vases from Ancient Greece moving him in a different direction to normal Renaissance art. There are literary connections associating Botticelli’s Venus, to a Homeric hymn published in Florence in 1488, giving his painting another classical association. Naturalism was never a commitment of Botticelli. He rarely gave any weight or volume to his figures and hardly ever used a deep perspective for space.
The body of Venus is anatomically improbably in his painting; she has an elongated neck and torso thus her pose is impossible the way she is standing in a classical stance with her weight leaning too far over to the left for her to balance. Imagery is imaginary in Birth of Venus because none of the figures cast shadows and this is clearly meant to bring pleasure to the spectator using an idyllically beautiful woman. She is blond and voluptuous with the curviness of her body and has gold leaf in her hair, all set in a luxurious garden with brilliant light and roses which are floating around this gorgeous nymph.