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The Birth of Venus

The Birth of Venus is a painting by Sandro Botticelli.

This famous artwork hangs in the Uffizi gallery in Florence. It is tempera on canvas, measuring 172.5 cm tall by 278.5 cm wide.

The painting the depicts the Goddess Venus emerging from the sea as a full grown woman, as described in Greek mythology.

This large picture by Botticelli may have been, like the "Allegory of Spring", painted for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco's Villa di Castello, around 1483, or even before. Some scholars suggest that the Venus painted for di Pierfrancesco and mentioned by Giorgio Vasari may have been a different, now lost, work than the painting in the Uffizi. Some experts believe it to be a celebration of the love of Giuliano di Piero de' Medici (who died in the Pazzi conspiracy in 1478) for Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci, who lived in Portovenere, a place by the sea. Whatever inspired the artist, there are clear similarities to Ovid's "Metamorphosis" and "Fasti", as well as to Poliziano's "Verses".

The classical Goddess Venus is emerging from the water on a shell, being blown towards shore up the Zephyrs, symbols of spiritual passions, and with one of the Ores, goddesses of the seasons, who is handing her a flowered cloak. According to some commentators, the naked goddess isn't then a symbol of earthly but of spiritual love, like an ancient marble statue (which might have inspired the eighteenth century sculptor, Antonio Canova, by its candor), slim and long-limbed, with harmonious features.

The effect, none the less, is distinctly pagan considering it was made at a time and place when most artworks still depicted Roman Catholic themes. It is somewhat surprising that this canvas escaped the flames of Savonarola's bonfires, where a number of Botticelli's other "pagan" influenced works perished.

The anatomy of Venus and various subsidiary details do not display the strict classical realism of Leonardo da Vinci or Raphael. Most obviously, Venus has an improbably long neck, and her left sholder slopes at an anatomically unlikely angle. Such details, whether artistic errors or artistic licence, do little to diminish the great beauty of the painting, and some have suggested it prefigures mannerism.

Classical Inspiration

The painting was one of a series which Botticelli was inspired to paint after written descriptions by the 2nd century historian Lucian of masterpieces of Ancient Greece which had long since disappeared by Botticelli's time. The ancient painting by Apelles was called Anadyomene Venus, "Anadyome" meaning "rising from the sea"; this title was also used for Botticelli's painting, "The Birth of Venus" only becoming it's better known title in the 19th century.

The below mural from Pompeii was never seen by Botticelli, but may have been a Roman copy of the then famous painting by Apelles which Lucian mentioned.

Mural at Pompeii

In classical antiquity, the sea shell was a metaphor for a woman's vulva.

The pose of Botticelli's Venus is remissent of the Venus de Medici, a marble sculpture from classical antiquity in the Medici collection which Botticelli had opportunity to study.

Botticelli's "Birth of Venus" in Popular Culture

Reproductions and variations on Botticelli's famous painting have been numerous in popular culture, including in advertising and motion pictures.

A scene in the 1962 James Bond film "Dr. No" with Ursula Andress rising from the sea was inspired by painting, and the scene was recreated in more detail in the 1988 film The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, with Uma Thurman as Venus.

A stylized of the face of Venus is on the 10 cent Italian euro coins.