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ALLEGORY OF SPRING – BOTTICELLI

Sandro Botticelli’s Allegory of Spring (the Italian original “Primavera”) is different than most of the other Christianity themed Renaissance paintings due to the mythological figures it includes. Despite the figures are all taken from classical mythology, there is no specific mythological story that brings these figures together. The figures, standing in a spring garden covered with flowers, have independent poses with almost no contact with each other and do not display a unified story. Nevertheless, the ways they act and the concepts they symbolize contribute to forming a common theme: the spring. Each figure in the painting should be analysed separately to comprehend the larger meaning in the painting:

1) Placed in the middle of the painting, the eye-catching woman is Venus*. Venus is the goddess of love and beauty of the Roman Mythology; and she also represents youth, regeneration, abundance and spring, which is attributed to all these concepts. The garden covered with orange trees, shrubs and flowers is the spring garden of Venus. The goddess is generally depicted in the nude, however, Botticelli chose to portray Venus as modestly clothed in this painting. She has a long dress and an exquisitely patterned red-blue cape on.

2) The winged figure in bluish colours flying among the trees at right side of the painting is the god of the west wind, Zephyros (i.e. Zephyr). Zephyr is the only wind that can enter the garden of Venus; and he brings along dewdrops and carries fragrances. His inflated cheeks show that he is blowing wind from his mouth. Zephyr reaches forward to capture the young girl in front of him. That young girl, named Chloris, is a kind of fairy called a “nymph” in Greek Mythology. According to the story told by the Greek poet Ovidius in Metamorphosis, Zephyr desires Chloris and abducts her. Eventually they get married and live the eternal spring together. Zephyr turns Chloris into a deity of flowers called Flora. The painting shows the abduction scene. Chloris running away in terror looks behind, catches Zephyr’s eyes and gets caught at the same instant. As she tries to scream, flowers come out of her mouth instead of voice; these flowers represent the spring brought to her by Zephyr.

3) Just to the left of Chloris is Flora, who Chloris will turn into. Flora has a corolla of flowers on her head, belt made of flowers, a flower patterned dress and her lap full of roses. She is just about to sprinkle those roses, a symbol of Venus. The flower patterns on her dress displays some of the 500 genuine plant species scattered all around the painting.

4) The three-girls group to the left of Venus are the Three Graces in Greek and Roman Mythology**. The Three Graces represent beauty, charm, nature, human creativity and fertility and accompany Venus in the garden. Their delicately intertwined hands and their dancing feet are depicted so as to create a “flowing in air” feeling to the viewer and that creates a certain dynamism in the painting. The Grace in the middle turns her face away from the carnal love Zephyros and Chloris with an sign of disapproval. However, she is unaware of the surprise awaiting her.

5) Venus’ son Cupid***, the god of love, is depicted above her as a little mischievous boy with wings. Cupid makes people fall in love by shooting them with his arrows. He has turned his bow towards the direction of the Grace in the middle this time. She will surely fall in love with the first person she sees when she is hit by Cupid’s arrow. Hence, the male figure she looks at becomes important in that sense.

6) The leftmost figure is Mercury****, the messenger god of the Roman gods. His symbols are his hat and winged sandals. Another symbol of his, the staff with entwined snakes, is used by him to disperse the clouds entering the garden of Venus. Venus’ garden should be free of clouds. It is assumed that the figure of Mercury was modelled after Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici or his cousin Giuliano de’ Medici, who are members of the famous and powerful Medici family, ruling Florence at that time. It is also presumed that the painting was ordered by the Medici family as a wedding gift to one of the family members. Thus, one of the Three Graces falling in love with Mercury, based on a Medici member, is supposed to refer to that wedding. Moreover, the orange garden in the painting is a reference to Medici family too, since oranges are the symbol of the family.

Notes:
* Venus: Corresponds to Aphrodite in Greek Mythology
** Three Graces: Named as Charites in Greek Mythology
*** Cupid: The Roman god corresponding to the Greek god Eros
**** Mercury: Corresponds to Hermes in Greek Mythology

Location: Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
Date: ca. 1482
Period: Renaissance
Sub-Group: Early Renaissance

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