One of Sandro Botticelli’s most famous pictures represents not a Christian legend but a classical myth - the birth of Venus. The patron who commissioned the Botticelli painting for his country villa was a member of the rich and powerful family of the Medici. Either he himself, or one of his learned friends, probably explained to the painter what was known of the way the ancients had represented Venus rising from the sea.
It should be recalled that we are in Florence of the 1480's where artists clustered around the princes, the Medicis in particular, but also the Vespuccis, the Tornabuonis, etc., Botticelli and the others as well as the humanists This new race of humanists cannot be forgotten, these men of science whose mission was to make the past live again, to translate Virgil, Homer, Hesiod and Pindar and to update them. These humanists were surrounded by their disciples, the great thinkers and philosophers, and all these people lived together. Every day, Lorenzo the Magnificent assembled these humanists and artists and, together, much like a literary society led by Prince Apollo, the art of Florence was created, and the humanists' ideas were then translated by the artists, painters, sculptors, goldsmiths and musicians. Several generations later, musical Neo-Platonism was born. We know that this Birth of Venus and Spring, which is its direct continuation, was launched as an idea by Lorenzo the Magnificent himself, set to verse by his favorite humanist, Ange Poliziano, interpreted by the tiny genius, Pico della Mirandola, approved by the patriarch, Marsilio Ficino, and the notebook was wrapped up for delivery to Botticelli. It went from Lorenzo the Magnificent to all of Florence's humanism of this second half of the 15th century to finally be given to Botticelli, who thus scrupulously followed a text: the profane Birth of Venus and the coronation of the sacred Venus. It was written by Ange Poliziano, based on an ode by Hesiod, and the work was, in fact, paid for by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco.
We see the story's birth with the winds, Zephyr and Aura, who, on the first day of Creation, elevated this shell bearing Venus' triumphant nudity from the unknown depths of the sea. And, approaching the earth on which she will assume her true role, her true power, she is suddenly modest, and we should note the stance, which Botticelli borrowed directly from the beautiful examples of the antique Venus Pudicae that were being discovered at that time. He really painted her like a Venus Pudica. For this modesty to take on its sacred nature, one of the Graces, in the name of all three, is there to cover her with her cape. The Graces have the privilege of covering Venus' nudity and transforming her into the mother and patron saint of all the forces of creation. Venus is in the process of landing. It should be pointed out that the shore she is landing on is very rugged and already has tall trees, both laurel and myrtle, and that the trees are crowded together, their foliage obscuring one another.
Here are several details to make us aware of Venus' triumphant splendor. We know that until recently, this Birth of Venus had been lavishly covered with varnish, which means that the successive coats of varnish had finally completely opacified. The two paintings were superbly cleaned, and we have now discovered a new Botticelli: pearly flesh, nearly translucent, skin so fine that we have the impression that we can almost see the sea through it. All of the marvelous qualities of Botticelli's painting only appeared after it had been cleaned.
This is the heroic group of winds. In fact, in their disorder, they represent the original chaos, as Venus was born from this chaos which thus pushed her to take over the world. An admirable Grace with the cape which she has prepared to cover Venus with the flowers and fruits of the earth, as she shall become Venus Flora and Pomona. She will be all that and, as the sacred Venus, she will be the mistresgods and goddesses of Olympus. This Grace has a superb face, which Ingres had always maintained was the most beautiful face ever painted (he always liked chinless women). The apparent movement in the light of the white dress covered with cornflowers does not come from its folds, but rather from the play of the cornflowers' blues, the sunlit parts, the shaded parts, the parts in the foreground, the parts in the background all sculpted by the cornflowers covering these fields which cause the beauty of this Grace's body to dominate the painting, who is one of the most beautiful parts of the Birth of Venus.
Botticelli's Venus is so beautiful that we do not notice the unnatural length of her neck, the steep fall of her shoulders and the queer way her left arm is hinged to the body. This secular work was painted onto canvas, which was a less expensive painting surface than the wooden panels used in church and court pictures. A wooden surface would certainly be impractical for a work on such a scale. Canvas is known to have been the preferred material for the painting of non-religious and pagan subjects that were sometimes commissioned to decorate country villas in 15th-century Italy.