Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • So this is a mini lecture on the subject of Botticelli's painting known as the Birth of

  • Venus and I shall be discussing with you what the painting is really about. This is the

  • painting. It is a very very well known painting which is why I'm discussing it, but I want

  • to give some indication of the range of ways a painting like this can be discussed. It's

  • a celebrated work of art, it is the high point of a visit to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

  • It is a major tourist attraction, it's in the biggest room, it has the biggest crowd in front

  • of it. There's more to it than that. It's also seen as a cultural icon and a commercial

  • asset so you often see the image called upon for all kinds of merchandise from t-shirts

  • to garden ornaments. And then it's renowned as a landmark of European art. But we can examine

  • with paining in other ways too and I'm going to do so in relation to a series of specific

  • questions so they're all framed as question so we'll begin like this and carry on our

  • first of all what is the painting's subject? This isn't really very difficult to answer.

  • There's a figure of Venus, goddess of love in the middle standing in a shell being washed

  • up on a beach blown there by the winds you see on the left and welcomed by a maiden that

  • you see on the right so that's the subject but then there's this puzzling question perhaps

  • of why is it that so many people like this painting so much it must be something to do

  • with the kind of linearity and harmonious design it must be to do with the clarity and

  • the brightness of the colors, the use of gold and so on so it has all the features in addition

  • to this presentation of a beautiful young woman at the paintings centre I might want

  • to add at this point that the painting today probably isn't quite as glorious as it was

  • originally when the colours would have been brighter especially the greens of the trees

  • and the blue of the sky so it would originally have been a feast of color another question

  • we might ask of the painting and I'll come back to this later is whether we think the

  • painting has any faults. We might want to think about whether he could have done the

  • anatomy of the woman better or whether he could have represented the trees more accurately

  • or whether he could have done a more detailed or more logical landscape behind. And in some

  • senses these can all be regarded as not at the forefront of the leaders of renaissance

  • painting in his time. But I want to come back to that point in a little while's time. We

  • can also link the painting or can we to particular innovations in art at this particular moment.

  • Two in particular comes to mind and the third follows from that first of all there is the

  • novelty of representing the nude. The nude woman. It's a very unusual occurrence. There

  • are very few paintings of nude individuals nude within from the heart beforehand. They

  • are usually restricted to representations or Eve such as the one I'm showing you on

  • the right. What we have here is an image or a beautiful woman flouting the beauty and

  • one who is unusually and remarkably in direct engagement with the viewer and this is a very

  • striking characteristic of this world. Then there is the novelty of mythological art and

  • this in the 1480s was very much a new type of painting. So a painting of the Olympian

  • gods dealing with mythological subject. And from that we can then begin to think about

  • how the painting could have connected with mythological texts. There are texts of many

  • kinds which are connectable to this painting. So for example there is a description by the

  • Roman writer Pliny of a famous painting by the famous Greek artists Apennes on the subject

  • of Venus rising from the sea, which is the subject of Botticelli's painting. There are

  • also passages poems, which deal with Venus in remarkably similar ways. This is an extract

  • from a Homeric hymn. It goes like this. Of august gold-wreathed and beautiful Aphrodite

  • I shall sing, to whose domain belong the battlements of all sea-laved Cyprus where, blown by the

  • moist breath of Zephyrus, she was carried over the waves of the resounding sea on soft

  • foam. The gold-filleted Horae - personifications of the time of the day - happily welcomed

  • her and clothed her with heavenly raiment. . So this is an ancient Greek poem known at

  • the time which has similarities with the painting. but we might want to consider just how closely

  • or otherwise the painting actually corresponds with the story. There are many similarities

  • but there is not a one-to-one correspondence. But equally we can find modern texts such

  • as the famous poem by Angelo Poliziano ou alone, although chaste, may safely enter the

  • realm of Venus and Love; you alone rule over love poetry; often Love himself comes to sing

  • with you; having put down the quiver from his shoulder, he tries the strings of your

  • beautiful lyre. But joyful Spring is never absent: she unfolds her blonde and curling

  • hair to the breeze and ties a thousand flowers in a garland. This army accompanies your sons,

  • fair Venus, mother of the cupids. Zephyr - the West Wind - bathes the meadow with dew, spreading

  • a thousand lovely fragrances: wherever he flies he clothes the countryside in roses,

  • lilies, violets, and other flowers; the grass marvels at its own beauties, white blue, pale,

  • and red. So again we have a poem. It can be thought of as being similar in all sorts of

  • respect to the painting but the two are simply not the same. People have often said they're

  • pretty much the same but they're not and there are other explanations of our painting which

  • we might want to consider. What other factors might want to consider? Well the first of

  • these would be to consider the suitability of the painting to a particular kind of location.

  • Now we don't want that location was originally but there are some clues. So for example the

  • painting is executed very unusually on canvas. It is first mentioned in the 16th century

  • as being located in a villa Medici near Florence. So we're dealing with a transportable work

  • of art which may well have been intended for a villa location. So who was the person responsible

  • for having it painted? Well it was almost certainly painted for Lorenzo de Medici, that

  • is Lorenzo the Magnificent or some close associate of his. That is why the painting features

  • prominently laurel in the background because the Latin and Italian words for laurel chime

  • with the name Lorenzo. So I'm seeking to find explanation for the laurel and the explanation

  • would seem to be the similarity with the name Lorenzo. As for the sort of room that would

  • have been painted for. Well that's rather hard because such rooms really don't exist

  • very much in Florence. What I'm showing you here is a fourteenth-century room in Florence

  • of a kind where I'm proposing the painting might originally have been located. So it's

  • sort of multi-purpose room, richly decorated, but I want to draw your attention to some

  • of the decorations. The rich colors, the Arcadian treatment of stories around an upper frieze

  • which depict amorous matter this is in some general sense like the subject matter of the

  • Birth of Venus. Or here's another room in the Palazzo Davanzati in Florence and I just

  • want to draw your attention to the imitation wall hangings of on the wall which perhaps

  • helps us understand why there is a kind of aspect to the Birth of Venus which may remind

  • us of tapestries. So it's the kind of work of art which would fit into an environment

  • of the sort that I'm representing in these interiors from Palazzo Davanzati. But there

  • are other kinds of reading we can also take from our painting. So we can think about the

  • painting for example as a representation of philosophical ideas and as some kind of allegory.

  • It's not too difficult to think this through. So for example if we know that Venus is the

  • goddess of love we can surely see that the painting represents the arrival in the world

  • of Venus or in other words of love. So it's about the coming to the world of the representative

  • of love. We can also notice associations which are immediately relevant with works of art

  • of other kinds. What I'm showing you here is a comparison between Botticelli and a much

  • earlier work by Florentine artist Lorenzo Ghiberti of the baptism of Christ and I'm

  • hoping you're going to agree that the compositions are remarkably similar. So there are fluttering

  • angels on the left. There is a naked little figure in the middle and there is a kind of

  • figure with an outstretched arm on the right-hand side standing in front of the tree and the

  • central figure is in both cases immersed in water. So the question is why did Botticelli

  • make his painting so like a traditional representation of a baptism? And the answer is presumably

  • to do with the meaning of baptisms. Because the baptism represents the inauguration of

  • the ministry of Christ on earth in the world. So correspondingly Botticelli's painting represents

  • the inauguration of the ministry of love in the world. But you're supposed to see the

  • similarities with a baptism in Botticelli's image of the Birth of Venus which would therefore

  • have a comparable meaning. There are other dimensions to this to which I won't go in

  • to very much but if we think of the painting as representing the arrival of Venus it can

  • then have a political dimension. The arrival of Venus is being associated with laurel,

  • which references Lorenzo the magnificent, and the many flowers in the painting are then

  • representative of Florence. The word meaning city of flowers. So love is being associated

  • with Florence and with Lorenzo de Medici. There are in addition other visual illusions

  • that are made by the painting to the extent that we might begin to want to consider the

  • painting to be an example of what I'm going to call visual poetry. So for instance the

  • idea of the goddess of love being born from a shell is an idea, which is borrowed out

  • of ancient Roman art, which sometimes depicts the goddess Venus has been encased in a shell.

  • and then each of the individual groups in the painting can likewise be equated by examples

  • of past art. so it's quite obvious I think that the pose and deportment the central figure

  • recalls representations of Venus in ancient art. It's less well known that the group

  • of flying figures, the winds on the left inside, chime with representations of such figures

  • on in ancient Roman art such as this glorious cup I'm showing on the left hand side which

  • was a possession of Lorenzo the Magnificent. Then the figure on the right seems to be rather

  • closely related to representations of maidens which you can again find in ancient relief

  • sculpture known at this particular moment. So the thing sort of borrows from all sorts

  • of sources and puts them together into a new configuration and in such a way that you could

  • think about bits and pieces of the painting and make all sorts of association both with

  • ideas and with other works of art. Now finally I'm going to come back to the problem which

  • I mentioned at the start which is the painting advanced or otherwise in its style? It's

  • very flat. It's very unsophisticated from the point of view of the minuteness of the

  • representation of nature. It makes a big comparison with another work from around the same period

  • this time of a baptism by Andrea del Verrocio and Leonardo Da Vinci. So the compositions

  • are similar but the painting on the right by Verrocio and Leonardo is all about nature.

  • All about atmosphere. all about shadows. All about detailed representation of landscape.

  • And in connection with landscape it is quite interesting to note that Leonardo said of

  • Botticelli - Botticelli paints very sorry landscapes. So taking all this into account

  • we might very reasonably conclude that the painting falls short of some people's ideas

  • of a notion of artistic advancement. So that is the case, but the question then is does

  • the painting's style actually contribute to its subject and its merits and I'm proposing

  • that it does. It's not about reality, it's about a world of the imagination. It is set

  • out in this very clear way, sequential way that allows you to dwell on the significance

  • of the subject and the beauties of the subject. So that is part of the point of the painting.

  • So here we are at the end of this short lecture and the question I hope is do we understand

  • this painting a little bit better that we did at the start and the answer is that I

  • hope we do! Thank you all very much

So this is a mini lecture on the subject of Botticelli's painting known as the Birth of

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B1 US painting venus botticelli lorenzo art florence

Botticelli - The Birth of Venus

  • 44 0
    Caurora posted on 2019/11/10
Video vocabulary