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The Birth of Venus (1483-85), by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) // The Birth of Venus (1879), by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)

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 “The mouth, with its opening joining the red of the lips to the flesh of the face, seemed to be real flesh rather than paint. Anyone who looked very attentively at the hollow of her throat would see her pulse beating: to tell the truth, it can be said that portrait was painted in a way that would cause every brave artist to tremble and fear, whoever he might be.” 

-Giogrio Vasari, Lives of the Artists (1550)

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It’s hard to imagine the Italian renaissance without Botticelli; the artist responsible for bringing Spring to life and whose frescoes reside beneath Michelangelo’s in the Sistine Chapel. But for over 300 years one of the most celebrated sons of Florence remained largely unknown. It was the Pre-Raphaelites, in their rejection of academic convention in art and attempt to return to a golden age of painting, who resurrected Botticelli to his modern fame. Today The Birth of Venus and Primavera receive over 1.5 million visitors annually at the Uffizi Gallery. 

While Botticelli has achieved a posthumous fame equal to that of Raphael or Michelangelo much of his life remains in obscurity. One detail that can be confirmed is Botticelli originally apprenticed as a goldsmith with his brother, Antonio. The influence from these early years are a defining component in several of Boticelli’s works. Minute details become transformed into items of fantasy and wonder, and the audience is reminded that they are looking at the other worldly. Goddesses are the ones born in a swirl of shimmering flowers and gilded forests, not you or I. Mary was born a mere mortal, but now she is wholly divine. The Virgin is golden haired, radiant, and draped in fabrics spun with gold; unattainable luxury worthy only for the Queen of Heaven. 

(paintings shown: Madonna of the Book, Birth of Venus, Mary with the Child and Singing Angels, Madonna of the Magnificat, Adoration of the Magi)