Primavera (painting)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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The Primavera is a painting by the Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli, c. 1482. It is housed in Uffizi Gallery of Florence.

In 1551, Vasari wrote that the picture which according to him announced the arrival of spring (Primavera in Italian) was in the Medici villa in Castello, near villa de Petraia. In 1477, the estate was acquired by Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici, who was a second cousin of Lorenzo the Magnificent. This is why it was long assumed that the Primavera, as the painting continues to be called, was painted for the fourteen-year-old Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco when the villa was bought. An inventory dating from 1499, which was not discovered until 1975, lists the property of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco and his brother Giovanni and states that in the 15th century the Primavera had been displayed in Florence's city palace. The painting decorated an anteroom attached to Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco's chambers.

Such large-format paintings were not unusual in the private residences of affluent families. The Primavera is, however, significantly illustrative of Renaissance classicistic iconography and form, depicting classical gods almost naked and life-size and a complex philosophical symbolism requiring deep knowledge of Renaissance literature and syncretism to interpret. While some of the figures were inspired by ancient sculptures, these were not direct copies but translated into Botticelli's own, idiosyncratic formal language: slender, highly-idealized figures whose bodies at times seem slightly too attenuated and presage the elegant, courtly style of 16th-century Mannerism.

Venus is standing in the center of the picture, set slightly back from the other figures. Above her, Cupid is aiming one of his arrows of love at the Charites (Three Graces), who are elegantly dancing a rondel. The Grace on the right side has the face of Caterina Sforza, also painted by Botticelli in a famous portrait in the Lindenau Museum as Catherine of Alexandria. The garden of Venus, the goddess of love, is guarded on the left by Mercury, who stretches out his hand to touch the fruit. Mercury, who is lightly clad in a red cloak covered with flames, is wearing a helmet and carrying a sword, clearly characterizing him as the guardian of the garden. The messenger of the gods is also identified by means of his winged shoes and the caduceus staff which he used to drive two snakes apart and make peace; Botticelli has depicted the snakes as winged dragons. From the right, Zephyrus, the god of the winds, is forcefully pushing his way in, in pursuit of the nymph Chloris. Next to her walks Flora, the goddess of spring, who is scattering flowers, presumedly modelled upon Simonetta Vespucci.

Various interpretations of the scene exist. For instance, the Primavera was also read as a political image: Love (Amor) would be Rome ("Roma" in Italian); the three Graces Pisa, Naples and Genoa; Mercury Milan; Flora Florence; May Mantua; Chloris and Zephyr Venice and Bolzano (or Arezzo and Forlì).

Leaving aside these suppositions, there remains the profoundly humanistic nature of the painting, a reflection of contemporary cultural influences and an expression of classical literary texts.

One source for this scene is Ovid's Fasti, a poetic calendar describing Roman festivals. For the month of May, Flora tells how she was once the nymph Chloris, and breathes out flowers as she does so. Aroused to a fiery passion by her beauty, Zephyr, the god of the wind, follows her and forcefully takes her as his wife. Regretting his violence, he transforms her into Flora; his gift gives her a beautiful garden in which eternal spring reigns. Botticelli is depicting two separate moments in Ovid's narrative, the erotic pursuit of Chloris by Zephyr and her subsequent transformation into Flora. This is why the clothes of the two women, who also do not appear to notice each other, are being blown in different directions. Flora is standing next to Venus and scattering roses, the flowers of the goddess of love. In his philosophical didactic poem De Rerum Natura the classical writer Lucretius celebrated both goddesses in a single spring scene. As the passage also contains other figures in Botticelli's group, it is probably one of the main sources for the painting: "Spring-time and Venus come,/ And Venus' boy, the winged harbinger, steps on before,/ And hard on Zephyr's foot-prints Mother Flora,/ Sprinkling the ways before them, filleth all/ With colours and with odours excellent."

Ernst Gombrich disputed the relevance of the Lucretius passage on the basis that it is part of a philosophical work otherwise of little interest to visual artists as source material, and in favor of a passage from The Golden Ass by Apuleius, which is much closer in style to classical ecphrasis, texts describing lost paintings in detail, that were a popular source of inspiration for Renaissance artists. Apuleius' passage represents the choice of Venus as the most beautiful goddess by Paris, a choice leading to the Trojan War described in Homer's Iliad. To the young Lorenzo's tutor, Ficino, Venus represented Humanitas, so that the painting becomes an invitation to choose the values of Renaissance Humanism.

Kathryn Lindskoog maintains that the Primavera is an illustration of the Garden of Eden from the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. In her reading, the figures, from left to right, are Adam, the three Theological Virtues, Beatrice, Matilda, Eve, and Satan.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Primavera (painting)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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