Despite the sophisticated approach to anatomy and perspective, as well as the adherence to the philosophy of the Medici Court, present in the painting “Primavera” (1482) by Botticelli, the artist never loses the beauty of his vision. Many factors come to play in this painting’s imagery, including a full menu of mythical creatures and a refined sensibility toward its theme, an allegory of Spring.
Through his “Primavera,” Sandro Botticelli (nee Alessandro di Moriano Filipepi) sought to create a painting that captured the ideal of the Renaissance world. While the message of the painting is subject to debate, it clearly focuses on the ideal of the spiritual over the material, a canon of the Neo-Platonic philosophy of the time.
Today housed in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, “Primavera” is an excellent example of the artistic style favored by the wealthy Florentine patrons (many members of the Medici Court) of Renaissance Italy. Some of the finest art works of all ages have emerged from this singular time and place.
Mythological Figures in “Primavera”
Botticelli captures the freshness of a Spring morning with a wide range of figures and setting in his artwork. A pale light shines through a wood, already heavy with golden fruit, perhaps oranges or maybe the golden apples of the Hesperides.
To the right, warm winds are blown by a blue-faced Zephyr, who embraces the Roman goddess Flora, or perhaps the diaphanously clothed Earth Nymph Chloris, who is metamorphosing into Flora, as her breath exudes flowers that dot the surrounding countryside.
At the center of the painting in a red cloak of passion is Venus, the goddess of love, above whom a common Renaissance figure, Cupid (here blindfolded), shoots his arrows of love at the dancing Three Graces. Finally, the figure to the far left is often suggested as Mercury, the messenger, who brings the news of Spring’s arrival.
Themes of Spring
So many of the symbols within “Primavera” focus on Spring and the abundance of life that the season brings with it. There are, for example, nearly 500 different plants within the painting, of which 190 of those are flowers. Spring is also frequently associated with love’s arrival, as seen in Cupid and Venus. The Three Graces (who symbolize the three phases of love: beauty, desire, and fulfillment) dance in joy at the arrival of the new season.
All of the figures and images within the painting by Botticelli are life-embracing (although not without pain). The Three Graces dance merrily, blissfully unaware that they are about to be stuck by Cupid’s arrow. Indeed, the painting represents an idealized state, with humans and nature in harmony.
Medici Court and Neo-Platonism
This painting, done for part of the Medici clan (the ruling Florentine first family), is reflective of the Neo-Platonistic philosophy of the day. This philosophy was established as early as the 3rd century, but found its revival in 15th century Florence, when Cosimo di Medici founded the Platonic Academy of Florence.
The philosophy combines the classical Greek system of mythology and ideals of Plato with the 15th century Christian tenets of the Catholic Church. The leading belief was that the soul of man was endowed with virtue that enabled him to link to God. This return to the Pagan world of the Ancients was a desire to return to a more pure state. Here, the female figures were not about sensuality, but instead innocence and purity. It was a desire to rise above the material and embrace the spiritual.
This allegorical painting of Botticelli embraces the concepts of life, beauty, and spiritual knowledge. Spring is a harbinger of rebirth, of abundance, and of love. “Primavera” beautifully showcases all of those things and more in one of the most famous paintings of the Renaissance.