Primavera by Sandro Botticelli is one of the most famous Renaissance oil paintings.
Translating as Spring, it is a large tempera panel painting measuring over two meters by three meters, almost 80 x 124 inches.
Upon first witnessing this intriguing artwork, most people want to know what Sandro Botticelli Primavera painting means.
In answering this question, it's necessary to explore the figures' identities in the artwork. It depicts a group of classical mythological figures in a woodland setting. Despite the classical inspiration, the figures appear side by side (in the Gothic tradition) on a flat pictorial plane.
Mythological figures include Zephyrus (representing the biting winds of March) and the nymph Chloris. Chloris was kidnapped, raped, and married by Zephyrus, later transforming into the goddess Flora. The goddess Venus stands in the group's center, wearing a red drape and directly gazing at the viewer.
Above Venus, blindfolded, Cupid aims his bow toward The Three Graces. The three women are all dressed in white, holding hands, and dancing. The god Mercury stands at the far left, reaching his arm towards the fruits and clouds above.
Commissioned by the House of Medici, the orange grove setting references their family symbol.
Despite the specificity of the individuals in the painting, no recorded story brings this diverse group of characters together. Consequently, Sandro Botticelli paintings may represent the lush new life of Spring.
Indeed, there are over 500 identifiable plant species in the painting and more than 130 identifiable flowers linking Botticelli's creation with the famous "millefleur" Flemish tapestries of the time.
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Described as one of the world's most controversial renaissance oil paintings, the scandal surrounding Botticelli's Primavera isn't apparent at first glance. Yet, it's controversial for its lack of direct narrative, spurring centuries of debate since its creation.
At one level, the painting is a mythological allegory of Spring. The March wind blows forth Flora and her flowers. Venus (the goddess of April) stands proudly in the center of the composition. Mercury (the god of May) chases away the last remaining clouds before the onset of summer.
Despite this obvious interpretation of the painting's meaning, other theories abound. For example, Cupid's arrow aims at the middle Grace (Chastity), which suggests a theme of love and marriage.
The inclusion of Cupid may represent a renunciation of the earthly, carnal love expressed by Zephyrus and Chloris. Instead, the platonic ideal of love resides with Mercury, who gazes beyond the canvas.
Further supporting this interpretation, the painting originally hung next to Botticelli's Pallas and the Centaur (c1482); an allegory for the triumph of knowledge over earthly desire.
Sandro Botticelli is one of the most famous artists of the Renaissance. His large-scale representations of classical mythology, exemplified by Primavera, were virtually unprecedented in Western art.
His paintings embody the shift from the linear grace of the late Italian Gothic period towards the realism of the Early Renaissance style. In addition, he created many religious paintings with classical narratives and spent most of his life in his hometown of Florence.
Botticelli's reputation suffered in the years after his death (falling out of favor for their Mannerist style), but his art experienced a resurgence in the nineteenth century. More recently, Botticelli's Portrait of a Young Man Holding a Roundel sold for a staggering $92 million. This exceptional purchase took place at Sotheby's auction house in London.
Sandro Botticelli Primavera now hangs in the Uffizi Gallery (Florence, Italy) alongside several other renaissance oil paintings. Other notable famous oil paintings held by the Uffizi Gallery include Sandro Botticelli Birth of Venus (c.1483) and The Adoration of the Magi (c.1470-74)
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