La Primavera, Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi)
Despite another round of snow here on the East Coast of the U.S., today marks the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere.
Like so many historic paintings, the name La Primavara (“Spring”) was assigned to this painting after the fact by someone other than the artist (in this case, painter and seminal art historian Giorgio Vasari), but the consensus among the many interpretations of the painting is that the scene is indeed an allegorical representation of Spring.
The general assumption is that we see Mercury at left, parting the clouds of winter, accompanied by the three graces. In the middle, we see Venus and above her, blindfolded Cupid takes aim. In the flowered dress is Primavera, the embodiment of spring, and to her side, perhaps in the process of changing one into the other, is Flora — goddess of flowers and spring — who is the target of the windy breath of Zephyr, perhaps causing her to sprout the first greenery of the season.
There is a more detailed discussion of the possible meanings of the work on the Wikipedia page devoted to the painting.
What is not obvious from the reproductions is how large the painting is (80 x 124″, 202 x 314cm), and how striking it is in person. I had the pleasure of seeing this for myself on a trip to Florence some years ago, and the painting — which shares a room with Botticelli’s even more famous Birth of Venus — fills your visual field, engulfing you in its magic as you stand before it.
A triumph of early Renaissance art, and a marvel of egg tempera painting at a large scale, the painting’s still mysterious details remain a subject of much discussion and debate to this day. Supposedly, there are some 500 of different identifiable plant species in the painting, of which close to 200 are flowering.