La Venere di Botticelli: Venus on a Half Shell

It has long been suggested that Botticelli was commissioned to paint the piece by the Medici family – specifically influenced by Lorenzo il Magnifico. You can see that Venus is completely naked on a sea shell. She advances towards us, along the surface of the sea that is rippled by waves, in all her grace and beauty…almost like an ancient statue. In fact, Botticelli used this ancient statue for reference…a statue that was in the Medici family collection. Botticelli would have had the opportunity to study it in his spare time.

Venus is pushed forward and warmed by the breath of Zephyr, who is hugged by a female character that symbolizes the physicality of the act of love. Venus thus is powered by the winds of passion. Perhaps the female figure is the nymph Chloris. On the the shore is a young girl, one of the hours who presides over the changing seasons, especially spring. She waits, ready to cloth the goddess in a beautiful pink robe embroidered with flowers.

Surely the nakedness of the goddess for contemporary patrons of the painting wasn’t a representation or exaltation of pagan rituals, but rather the concept of Humanitas, a depiction of spiritual beauty that represents purity, simplicity and nobility of the soul. There is also a parallelism between Venus and the Christian soul which is purified by being baptised by water.

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