[EN] / [IT]
Who does not know Botticelli?
Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi known as Sandro Botticelli was an Italian painter of the early Renaissance. Born in Florence in 1445, Botticelli was a prominent member of the Florentine art scene and is considered one of the greatest painters of his time.
One of Botticelli’s most famous works is ‘The Birth of Venus’, which depicts the goddess of love and beauty emerging from the sea on a shell, after her brother Kronos had severed her father Uranus’ member, causing the seed to spill out and giving birth to the known world.
Botticelli’s painting, preserved in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance art and an iconic representation of the human form.
Another Botticelli painting is the ‘Primavera’, which depicts a group of mythological figures in a lush garden.
The painting is considered one of the best examples of Botticelli’s skills as a colourist and draughtsman, as well as a testament to his knowledge of classical mythology.
Images as symbols
An interesting interpretation of this beautiful painting was given by Marsilo Ficino, who sees in the work the elevation of love from carnal to spiritual. In fact, Cupid, symbol of erotic love, is shooting his arrow at the three Graces, who transform this feeling from carnal to spiritual, thanks to the influence of Venus, who is apostrophising them with her hand, and then intellectual, thanks to Mercury. This interpretation coincides with Humanist thought, of which Botticelli is one of the most representative artists.
Humanist thought saw images as the symbolic transposition of philosophical, religious and political concepts: behind the artist’s work there was first and foremost an intellectual stimulus, often derived from the commissioner of the work.
The codes chosen were intended to represent and propagate; the various schools of thought of the period were formed by scholars discussing the highest ideals to which man should aspire.
In order to look at and understand the figure of Botticelli’s Venus, I had to tidy up quite a bit of knowledge, including the ideas of Marsilio Ficino, the history of the Medici family and Greek philosophy.
The philosophical, mythological and historical knowledge supporting Botticelli’s work is vast
The Humanist Venus
At that time (‘The Birth of Venus’ is from 1485 A.D. and ‘The Spring’ from 1482), philosophical debate was questioning the existence and knowledge of the human soul, as a response to the ‘medieval cultural crisis’.
Finding in classical knowledge a tool to improve collective civic life, Botticelli also joined those who embraced the theses of the humanist period and codified the image of Venus in reference to them.
This goddess, repeatedly present in his works, is an impersonation of the Neo-Platonic concept of Humanitas.
What is Humanitas
Humanitas is the pursuit of beauty, not only in the balance of forms, but also in moral and spiritual balance. Humanitas is benevolent attention and care between men, it is knowledge that translates into the will to advance humanity.
In famous works such as ‘The Spring’ and ‘The Birth of Venus’, this marvellous body, perfectly painted in golden proportions, is proof of the intellectual will of the time, to show the highest aspirations and possibilities of the human spirit. Venus is the perfect symbol of total beauty.
But what is it that makes Botticelli’s Venus so special? And what makes his paintings timeless cultural symbols?
Simple as beauty
After some reflection, I remembered that true beauty lies in simplicity and it is through it that the true essence of things can manifest itself. Botticelli uses simple codes, creating harmonious images, rich in detail but without exaggeration.
The painter had been a pupil of Master Lippi, from whom he had taken the use of decorative details derived from the late Gothic period.
The meadow of ‘Spring’ is wonderful, as is the dress Clori is wearing. Although they stand out in the composition, they are simple and keep the tension of the image balanced.
Working for a family as important as the Medici family and with the intention of representing such lofty ideals, Botticelli could have indulged in glitz or self-celebration; but precisely by using simple means such as the codes of classical mythology, the absence of depth and a fairly symmetrical and rhythmic composition, he manages to remain balanced on the canvas, exactly like the message he wants to convey from it: balance and care as places of human elevation.
The humanist balance and the world of ideas
This whole expressive machine not only contains symbolic elements, but it seems to me that, beyond the frame of the canvas, a further level of interpretation is concealed. The painting seems to be the visual materialisation of the (neo)Platonic concept of Hyperuranium, the world beyond the vault of heaven.
The hyperuranium is the place where immutable and perfect ideas reside, reachable only by the intellect.
I wonder then if, in this summa of ideas and culture, one can identify Botticelli’s landscapes as a representation of the Hyperuranium. Could Alessandro Botticelli’s paintings be the materialisation of this ideal world and of a perfect, yearning and unattainable aesthetic?
The hyperuranium, this spiritual metaphysical non-place, is nothing other than the mirror of human imperfection. Comparing ourselves to the perfection of what inhabits this world, ideas, we inevitably discover ourselves to be incomplete, imperfect, human. When the viewer observes Venus, in addition to a magnificent Renaissance painting, he can also see his own limitations.
In front of ‘Spring’ or ‘The Birth of Venus’, perhaps you will see your flaws; perhaps the perfect idea of what you could be will look you straight in the eye.
Venus is beautiful but not ostentatious; she knows that life is not about embellishing at all costs, but about being the embodiment of spirit and intention.
Living in our highest capacities depends on how we see and immerse ourselves in the world: it is not important how things appear or how we make them appear, but what they really are and how we are in them, how we are present to reality.
The value of reality
At all times and actions, we must be convinced of the value that life holds and recognise what it is that truly gives us emotion and meaning. Looking at Botticelli’s art, I realised that his ability is to express abundance and luxury in the simplest way. True luxury is not expensive, because it is what life gives us as particles of it. Luxury is being able to enjoy what existence is: embracing the lush nature, feeling the poetry that resides in what is intimate, savouring the sharing of self and the possibility of receiving the other.
Unfortunately, over the centuries, we have mistaken the concept of ‘luxury’ for ‘wealth’ and in art, as in life, we have created visual and behavioural codes based on this misunderstanding.
Today’s visual places are full of bodies that only show themselves and their economic value, in constant movement towards perfection, of which, however, there are no aspirations that elevate us.
It is not a question of adhering to a precise aesthetic canon, but of the lack of an original idea of beauty, which is on an intellectual level (and distinct from the religious one), the mirror in which to look at oneself and demonstrate one’s own (im)perfection.
The philosophical debate on how to be ‘better’ has disappeared; art is no longer a symbol of what we could be nor of how to represent and be Humanitas in the world.
At the same time, imagination is image
If we wanted to understand Platonic ideas today, we could look at a Botticelli painting. Centuries later, this artefact not only represents but materialises the idea of perfection: it is the story of the ‘ideal world’ (Platonic) painted in an ideal way (Botticellian).
Besides showing, Botticelli materialises that insubstantial place: at the same time, imagination is the image on canvas.
Through his work, the artist shows the Platonic idea of perfect representation, transforming the artistic medium into a philosophical one. By transferring to the canvas the power to represent the Platonic Idea, the painting becomes both object and idea, Hyperuranium to contemplate when we lack the stimulus to do our work well: to live.
Allegories to contemplate
To sum up, here is why we should contemplate Botticelli more and how art has for centuries been a social element reflecting man’s spiritual possibilities. When you do something, try to stay in balance, without at all costs wanting to appear but thinking about the content rather than the container. In fact, the content must be able to reach other people, raising their spirits. In this way we show care for the world and not just ourselves, helping to advance humanity rather than implode it.
Surely we take into account that the Hyperuranium is a very high standard and that, as imperfect and material beings, we could never reach it; but it doesn’t hurt to try to reorder the visual and material production of the world, in function of a better version of ourselves. For who would not want to live surrounded by flowers and plants, dancing in a meadow or naked in the water, thinking about total love? Sounds like the ideal world, doesn’t it? Can we achieve it?