Analysis of The Birth of Venus

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The birth of Venus is a beautiful piece done by Sandro Botticelli. The ways people are rendered in this piece are a bit different than those of the northern renaissance which we learned about last week. Humanism is large at this time and humans are now taking center stage for artworks in the renaissance. In northern renaissance however the aspect of realism, is huge. However, Botticelli’s piece gives off a bit of a different sense of realism. Although the people in this image are noticeably human, they have a bit of a stylized aspect to them, perhaps too perfect for nature.

Venus is born from the sea and we can see Zephyr on the left blowing her to shore. Venus is shown standing on a large seashell nude and in the modest pose. Venus’s stance shows much grace as she carefully leans on one hip. She is modest because she is shown covering her genital area and breasts. This immediately attracts to her sexuality.

Venus is meant to be the idea of divine love and we can get that sense when looking at her in this image. We gather the sense of divinity because Venus appears so perfect and graceful. Her facial features are stylized to show perfection much like what was mentioned before. Her hair flows gracefully as she is blown ashore and hides certain areas of her to display her modestly. The use of mythological figures and the desire for perfection seems to move us away from the complete use of naturalism that was learned prior to this.

As for the composition we can see that Venus is in fact, the most important image in the picture. Venus is shown smack dab in the middle. Although she is not exactly larger than the other figures we know she is important due to her placement in the very center of the piece. When looking at the image the scallop shell also draws our attention to Venus as well. It is a large mass that is seen at Venus’s feet and for me I instantly catch myself looking in the direction of the shell first then moving up and noticing the figure of Venus, then later moving around the image to the other figures. Speaking of the other figures, since they are so bold and detailed you hardly seem to notice the background until dead last.  The beach and trees are hardly noticed at all.

This brings me back to the theory of this image being more stylized because not only can we see it in the figures due to a sense of perfection  we see it in the background as well. The trees are not entirely realistic. Yes we can tell they are trees but the connection with realism is a bit lost. Long and skinny trunks extend and display tiny individual leaves. The seashore also looks a bit foreshortened due to the fact that Venus is nearly hovering over the small amount of sand and is about the same height as the trees. The water and waves appear a little stylized as well. The waves are displayed as small ripples that extend back behind the shell Venus is standing on.

The background does give off the effect of space though. We can see this because the waves in the background get smaller and less noticeable towards the horizon line. The images in front are crisp and clear and as the shore extends back its color begins to fade giving off the effect that it is far. Even though we get the sense of depth we can also see it too, is a big foreshortened.  The sky in the picture is much less than the water making the water look as if its extending up a bit rather than back.

Lastly, the colors in this image make it feel a bit calming and serene. The artist was sure to use a lot of green hues in the picture. The sea for one isn’t a stand out sort of blue which is usually seen it is a bit of a blue green that strangely appears a bit warm to me. The color of Zephyr’s cloth and the sky appears to be right around the same color making all these pieces blend in a way. The only different color that is really used here is the orange that can be found in the cloth, Venus’s hair and some lighter tones found in the skin. The use of really only looks like two different colors really ties the image together giving it a sense of completeness and harmony. Which I think is important when painting a picture of the goddess of divine love. Peaceful, is what I think the artist was trying to capture here and I can really sense that.

3 responses »

  1. You have some nice descriptions here. Do you think that the painting also seems stylized (and, therefore unrealistic) because Venus is placed in the center of the painting, with figures on either side? (In other words, do you think that the painting is too contrived in its composition to be naturalistic?)

    -Prof. Bowen

  2. This is one of my favorite art pieces. I really love how Sandro Botticelli portrayed the goddess Venus. I dont know about you but i find the title of this artwork to be a little weird since Venus is portrayed as a full grown woman and not a baby as since its suppose to be the birth of the goddess. Anyways i really do love how Venus is depicted as this serene woman that has a sense of perfection of beauty.

  3. I like what you said about the background, because I’ve never actually noticed the background of this painting before. It’s so famous, I’m sure I’ve seen it a million times, but eyes never went to the background, so it’s really interesting to read about. Now that you mention it, I think the stylized trees are my favorite part of the painting (which all in all I never liked much before). I think it’s interesting that Botticelli’s trees in his other painting of Venus are a little less stylized and more naturalistic, although they’re very similar.

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