This is one of the artist’s most
recognized paintings. It depicts Venus, the goddess of love,
born out of a seashell, a fully mature woman. It is worthy to note that
in classical times, the seashell was the symbol for the female
genitalia, and as such, Botticelli was artfully referencing the
goddess’s actual birth.
For Plato, Venus had two aspects: she was an earthly goddess who aroused humans
to physical love or she was a heavenly goddess who inspired intellectual
love in them. Plato further argued that contemplation of physical
beauty allowed the mind to better understand spiritual beauty. So,
looking at Venus, the most beautiful of goddesses, might at first raise a
physical response in viewers which then lifted their minds towards the
godly. A Neoplatonic reading of Botticelli’s Birth of Venus suggests that 15th-century viewers would have looked at the painting and felt their minds lifted to the realm of divine love.