Sandro Botticelli Primavera Essay

  • Primavera

    Sandro Botticelli

  • Primavera

    Sandro Botticelli

  • Primavera

    Sandro Botticelli

  • Primavera

    Sandro Botticelli

The painting is set in a meadow complete with flowers and trees. It shows nine figures, all based on a mythological text. The man on the far left is Mercury and he separates the clouds so that spring may come. Cupid is above Venus and is known for his lack of morality and his attempts to take apart marriages. Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, is in the center of the picture surrounded by the Three Graces.

Venus is elegantly dressed and obviously reigns over the land. She is no longer the young girl featured in the painting Birth of Venus.

Venus is the goddess who protects and cares for the institution of marriage. The myrtle plant surrounding her is traditionally thought of as the plant that represents sexual desire, marriage and child bearing. Venus supports the fact that marriage is where sexuality is experienced, not before, and the Three Graces also represent this. They portray the female virtues chastity, beauty and love and their long, flowing coverings are characteristic of Botticelli's painting style.

On the right, covered in flowers is Flora, the goddess of flowers and blossoms. The story about how Flora came into existence begins with her former self, Chloris. Chloris was in the woods when Zephyr, the wind god on the far right of the painting, found and raped her. To prove to Chloris that he was sorry for his violence, he married her and declared her Flora, the goddess of flowers.

Botticelli depicted Chloris turning into Flora by literally painting flowers coming out of Chloris' mouth. In this small detail, Botticelli was seen to have followed the mythology stories very closely.

The story of Chloris alone shows that this painting was meant to celebrate a marriage. The fact that Chloris was not the one to choose her mate reflects 15th century culture where women had very little control over who they wed. The celebration of marriage is also demonstrated by the garden bursting with fruit and flowers which symbolize the fertility expected in marriage.

Also symbolic of love and fertility are the oranges growing in the grove and the number of oranges Botticelli drew clearly represented the hope that this marriage would result in many offspring. Notice on the right side above Zephyr there are no oranges until the scene moves on and Flora is shown to be married and respected by Zephyr; only then will "fruit" be produced. The trees and fruit are mature showing that Venus has reached her own maturity. The land is being made fertile again after winter.

Use of technique:
Botticelli preferred painting in fresco or distemper but he was influenced by Pollaiolo. A talented man as well as artists, Botticelli saw nature through the eyes of a goldsmith and he paid close attention to detail in Primavera.

This is taken from an essay written for my Art History course on 15th Century Italian Art. The topic was to discuss Botticelli’s La Primavera and its significance in the context of 15th-century art. I am only sharing my work, this is not something that can be copied or used in a paper. I am not claiming to be an expert in Art History (or Botticelli’s work) but I have studied the Italian Renaissance and I have taken many courses on Renaissance Italian Art…so, there you go.

The 15th century saw the influence of a growing respect for roman and Greek artistic vision, humanistic interpretations of antiquity, and a growing focus in art of representing naturalistic and a kind of idealistic beauty. Sandro Botticelli’s La Primavera brings together the themes of the 15th-century into one allegorical, mythologically influenced, and yet confusing painting. The influence of his teacher, Fra Filippo Lippi, and other 15th-century styles is apparent in how Botticelli treats the figures in his painting and how the each of the myths are represented. However, unlike other paintings of the period representing mythological themes, as Mantegna’s Athena Expelling the Vices from the Garden of Virtue, Botticelli’s work has no single literary source. It is full of a variety of allusions to Greek mythology; there is no one story this work of art seeks to represent. As such, the painting inspires varied interpretations. La Primavera was a refined work of art and would have been meant for a sophisticated audience.

Charles Dempsey, in his book The Portrayal of Love, descries the narrative structure of the Botticelli’s La Primavera as an example of a classical lyrical structure; like a poem, the work is a “rustic song cast in the mode of lyric invocation.”1 The blend of poetry and art was not uncommon in the 15th-century, as many of Botticelli’s works can tell us. Like the Renaissance humanistic practice of re-interpreting and emphasis on individual thought, La Primavera encourages the viewer to interpret, reflect, and admire. Sandro Botticelli’s La Primavera is a significant painting of the 15th century as it represents the popular influence of Roman and Greek art, humanistic ideals, and the popular use of poetic and mythological themes.


Not only the central figure of the painting, but of the mythological figures featured in the painting, the goddess Venus is the most renowned. Her presence is a reflection of the humanist interest in the classical world which was popular in Florence at this time.  She is depicted as an idealized woman, slightly off-center, with her head tilted and gesturing to her right. Above her is a blindfolded cupid (her son), and behind him the tree limbs form an arch which conveniently frame Venus and provide her with a privileged position in the painting. The place Venus has in the painting is where one would have seen the figure of the Virgin Mary in religious paintings. And, like those kinds the forest behind her and the sky peaking through, creates a very architectural image; almost displays like a halo.

The face of Venus, also similar to Lippi’s Madonna and child(pictured above on the left), is one that demands serious though and reflection. Lippi’s Madonna, like Botticelli’s Venus are both looking out. And both are showing a psychological depth to the woman in question; inviting the viewer want to identify with them.

The Dancing Graces:

Renaissance artists and poets looked to the works of antiquity for inspiration. As Humanism began to spread in the 15th century, the interest in all greco-roman spread, the influence of the humanistic teaching began to have an affect on artistic expression and styles. The motif of the dancing nymph – a common figure in Greek and Roman sculpture – is used throughout 15th century Italian art. Botticelli studied under Fra Filippo Lippi and we can see the influence of Lippi’s work on Botticelli. Like other 15th century artists, Lippi used the motif of the dancing nymph. As seen in his 1460 painting the Feast of Herod, this detail shows the drape of the clothing creating a flowing effect. The daughter is in motion, clothing flowing behind, and bound – gathered – at her waist; this is similar to many of the greek sculptures.

The three dancing figures in La Primavera, were modeled by Botticelli after an ancient depiction of the Three Graces.  These figures are important because they represent the feminine virtues of Chastity, Beauty, Love, all of which point to romance and provide us with some context in terms of what is going on in the painting. The attention done to the hair of the graces shows us how important representing each Grace with the same level of beauty and purity, yet showing their individuality. This focus on the importance of showing the individual spirit of a figure in art is the influence of the Humanistic ideals spreading in the Renaissance. Not only their hair styles, but the attention to the accessories and clothing. All the dresses are painted to be sheer,  angelic and almost untouchable. Yet, each grace is unique from the other.

In the ancient greek sculptures there is very little attention shown to the hair styles; they are all sculpted with hair in the same style. And, they are all nude. This shows his attention to detail and also the motive to give the graces a sense of naturalism; as if they themselves could be real yet at the same time their sheer clothing and almost unearthly beauty distances them from anything real. The goal of naturalism was to create figures that were as close to reality as possible, to accurately portray the human body.

The three graces are painted in the position similar to how they are portrayed in greek sculptures. However, unlike so many of their ancient counterparts where the graces are all looking away from each other, Botticelli’s graces are not only connected by their hands, but their gazes. The graces individually are their own selves, but it is the connection which allows them to come together and represent the ideal; all three virtues in one. Paintings in the 16th century, most religious, were meant to be an example of what the viewer should aspire to be; allegorical paintings were meant to inspire feelings of religious devotion or contain lessons within the paintings narrative.  As the graces are each in a different position, representing three sides of the body – of one complete figure – these graces represent the three virtuous women should exhibit.

The graces are not real – they are personifications of ideas.

Zephyrs, Chloris, and Flora:

Zephyrs, the god of the West Wind from mythology, a nymph named Chloris. As with the other characters in movement, the actions of Zephyrs and Chloris are in the moment. After Zephyrs takes Chloris, they are married and Chloris transforms into Flora, the Spring goddess. Flora and Venus are both portrayed as figures of fertility and Flora is depicted throwing flowers that have been gathered in her dress; this is a means of symbolizing both her fertility and springtime. Like the three graces, Zephyrs and Chloris are the only other figures in La Primavera who are holding eye contact with each other as well as physical contact. Zephyrs is the only figure to transcend the painting, coming from outside the painting as the west wind comes.

Botticelli is representing here two scenes, two parts of a story, in one setting. Similarly, Fra Filippo Lippi’s Feast of Herod and Masaccio’s The Tribute Money also employ this narrative technique in their paintings. However, unlike Lippi and Masaccio whose paintings cleary representing different stages of the story, in La Primavera Botticelli requires the imagination of the viewer. The taking of Chloris, her transformation into Flora, and Flora beginning the spring time are all represented in the painting. This complex story is subtly given. Only to the learned viewer, one aware of the mythology, would be able to interpret the painting.

Like many of the works painted for patrons, they were for a viewer of higher education and studies. The allegorical themes are meant for those who had the learning to not only understand the narrative of the painting, but also interpret and reflect upon it.

Some of the most iconic images of the Italian Renaissance are either religious or mythological. This is in part due to the infancy of art being a means of showing tribute and worship to God and also the growing importance of patrons hired artists to paint highly allegorical paintings either for their own churches, studies, or palaces. Lorenzo de’ Medici, or the Magnificent, was the son of Cosimo de’ Medici and the patron of Botticelli. The Medici family was known in its time to be the leading patrons of the arts as Cosimo de’ Medici understood how art to prove one’s political and social status. Social status was an important element of the arts. While some of the art requested by patrons were for public areas, like chapels or churches, most of the mythological and allegorical works were only found in the patron’s home. Only guests or family members would be able to view and appreciate these works.

However, the paintings themselves were not only meant to be allegorical, but to inspire reflection and study by those who viewed them. Botticelli’s La Primavera is not only a painting inspired by mythology but a complex work that demands to be appreciated and admired. Although, stylistically, it does not use the one-point perspective so popular in the 15th-century the work represents a number of important elements of 15th– century art. The painting favors the individual. Each character, even the Graces who are always represented together in ancient art, have their own personality. From the attention to detail on clothing, movement, to hair it is obvious that Botticelli wanted to not only reflect the mythology behind the story represented but the beauty of it as well.


1 Dempsey, Charles. The Portrayal of Love: Botticelli’s Primavera and Humanist Culture at the Time of Lorenzo the Magnificent ( Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1992), 52.

Detail of Venus, Primavera, Botticelli, 1482

Madonna and Child, Fra Lippo Lippi, 1465

Botticelli, Primavera, Detail of the Dancing Graces

Three Graces, Ancient Greek sculpture

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