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As mythology paintings entered into Renaissance art, Botticelli broke new ground with his work. He was the first to create large scale mythology scenes, some based on historical accounts of mythology. Botticelli chose to center his mythology work on what the Medici family requested, especially the younger generation. In the time period that Primavera was painted, minds were open to new ideas. Religion no longer needed to be the main subject of artist work. If the mythological works had been painted 100 years earlier, they would not have been accepted by the church because the paintings were so different than traditional paintings.
As the years have gone by, many interpretations have been given for the Primavera. Research has complied over the years and the context in that Primavera was painted in has been found. The central theme of the Primavera is one of love and marriage and when done in the right order will bring forth sensuality and fertility. This painting, the largest mythological painting in the Early Renaissance, was commissioned by the Medici family. The painting was hung in the bedroom of a bride to a member of the Medici family.
The painting is set in a meadow complete with flowers and trees. It shows nine figures, all based on a mythological text. The man on the far left is Mercury. He is separating the clouds and moving the winter clouds away so spring can come. Cupid is above Venus and is known for his lack of morality and his attempts to take apart marriages. Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, is in the center of the picture surrounded by the Three Graces. Venus is elegantly dressed obviously reigning over the land. She is no longer the young girl in the painting Birth of Venus.
On the right, covered in flowers is Flora, the goddess of flowers and blossoms. The story about how Flora came into existence begins with her former self, Chloris. Chloris was in the woods when Zephyr, the wind god on the far right of the painting, found and raped her. To prove to Chloris that he was sorry for his violence, he married her and declared her Flora, the goddess of flowers. Botticelli depicted Chloris turning into Flora by literally painting flowers coming out of Chloris’ mouth. In this small detail, Botticelli was seen to have followed the mythology stories very closely. This story alone shows that this painting was meant to celebrate a marriage. Even the fact that Chloris was not the one to choose her mate reflects on the culture in the 15 th century. Many times, the woman had very little choice in the selection of her husband. The celebration of marriage is also shown because the garden is bursting with fruit and flowers that symbolizes the fertility expected in marriage.
Venus is the goddess who protects and cares for the institution of marriage. The myrtle plant surrounds her is traditionally thought of as the plant that represents sexual desire, marriage, and child bearing. Venus supports the fact that marriage is where sexuality is experienced, not before. The Three Graces also represent this. They portray the female virtues chastity, beauty and love. Their long, flowing coverings are characteristic of Botticelli’s painting style.
Also symbolic of love and fertility are the oranges growing in the grove. The Medici family had an orange grove on the family estate. The number of oranges Botticelli drew clearly represented the hope that this marriage would result in many offspring. Notice on the right side above Zephyr there are no oranges until the scene moves on and Flora is shown to be married and respected by Zephyr; only then will “fruit” be produced. The trees and fruit are mature showing that Venus has reached her own maturity. The land is being made fertile again after winter.
The Primavera and the Birth of Venus paintings show two parts of Venus. Botticelli painted them to be companion paintings and hung in the same space. They both bring across the theme that love triumphs over brutality. In the Birth of Venus, Venus has just been born and arriving on earth. The trees have not yet produced fruit. The world is waiting her arrival. In Primavera, she is among large fruits and lush flowers. She has arrived at a mature state. She is presiding over the same world in each separate works.
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