B1 Intermediate US 152 Folder Collection
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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
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Botticelli - The Birth of Venus

152 Folder Collection
Caurora published on November 10, 2019
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