Lines and Colors art blog

Eye Candy for Today: Botticelli’s Primavera

Primavera, Sandro Botticelli
La Primavera, Sandro Botticelli (Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi)

The link is to a zoomable version on Google Art Project; there is a hi-res downloadable file on Wikimedia Commons; the original is in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence (unofficial site).

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.

Happy Spring!


2 responses to “Eye Candy for Today: Botticelli’s Primavera

  1. Thank you for this, Charley, on a New York morning as I gaze out across one more snowstorm too many. A snowstorm that chose to disregard the calendar.

    Art historians have tended to sanctify a holy trinity of renaissance Italians that includes Leonardo, Raphael, and Michelangelo. But most painters I know feel pretty strongly that Botticelli deserves equal status on the strength of this painting, as well as the birth of Venus and a handful of others.

    1. Thanks, Daniel. I agree. There were some smaller works by Botticelli in the Uffizi that impressed the hell out of me as well. Unfortunately, the official Uffizi website was apparently constructed in the dark ages, and is terrible. This unofficial one is better, but just skims the highlights. There are a few on Google Art Project. The figure at right in this one is supposedly his self-portrait.