MOST IMPORTANT WORKS OF ART - Sandro Botticelli (c. 1445[1] – May 17, 1510)

Primavera, The Allegory of Spring c. 1482. 
Nature, such an important presence in Renaissance art, is celebrated in Primavera with a profusion of light and colour. This painting is among the most mysterious in all the history of art, and scholars have long tried to unlock its arcane secrets. Even after the various personages have been identified, the overall meaning still remains uncertain. The expression of a culture imbued with symbolic and allegorical allusions like that of the 15th century, the painting lends itself to the most varied hypotheses for interpretation.

The title, The Allegory of Spring, by which the work has been known for some time, is based on Vasari's description on Venus: "Venus, whom the Graces are covering with flowers, as a symbol of spring." The subject of this painting is difficult to interpret. Scholars have struggled for decades to elaborate theories to explain every detail of the picture, but no one has yet succeeded in revealing its meaning completely.

Moreover, it is not even certain exactly who commissioned the work, but the person who ordered the painting from Botticelli, had to have been a member of the powerful Medici family. The presence of the Primavera in their villa at Castello has in the past led historians to conclude that the patron was Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco, the cousin of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and that the work was painted before Botticelli went to Rome. As Vasari writes: "In various homes throughout the city, he [Botticelli] himself painted tondi and numerous female nudes. Two of these paintings are still at Castello, Duke Cosimo's villa: one depicts the Birth of Venus, and those breezes and winds which blew her and her Cupids to land; and the second is another Venus, the symbol of Spring, being adorned with flowers by the Graces. In both paintings Sandro expressed himself with grace" (Vasari 225.)

Now, the tendency is to think that Primavera was commissioned by Lorenzo the Magnificent for the wedding if his cousin Lorenzo to Semiramide Appiani, and thus that it was painted around 1482.

In this case, the recently offered interpretation, which holds that a Latin text by Martianus Capella entitled De nuptiis Mercurii et Philologiae contains a description of the subject represented here, is in line with the occasion which seems to have generated the painting. This late Roman in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, as it was studied in schools of rhetoric.

The search for the beautiful as a value in itself, that is produced by art, places Botticelli on a different plane from his contemporaries Leonardo (1452 – 1519), Michelangelo (1475 – 1564), and Raphael (1483 – 1520), who considered art to be a means of investigation and knowledge of nature and history. Botticelli - in this sense he belongs more to the 15th century than the 16th - aims in his work at elaborating a philosophy which unites art, thought, and poetry. This is the source of the true challenge in interpreting some of his paintings, as is the case with Primavera.

The panel should be read form right to left. At first look at it, it allows us to approach the 9 figures present in the scene, who appear in a perfect harmony but not connected with each other. Thus, one can speak of a harmony of single figures. Zephyrus, the wind of spring, grabs a nude woman clad only in thin veils - the nymph Chloris - and weds her: flowers stream out of the mouth of the impregnated goddess. Next to her is the goddess Flora wearing a flowered dress and carrying flowers, which she scatters as she walks. In center a standing figure makes a gesturer of benediction: she is the goddess Venus who, with her head tilted slightly to one side, looks out of the picture, with Cupid flying above her about to shoot an arrow at one of the dancers in the trio below. On the left, the dancing group of women wearing veiled garments is easily identified as the three Graces. On the far left Mercury, covered only by a red chlamys, lifts his caduceus toward the top of the trees to dispel the clouds.

The wood nymph Chloris seized and impregnated by the west wind Zephyrus, the wind of spring, is transformed into a goddess Flora, the bearer of spring.  In a passage from Ovid's Fasti, Chloris states: "I was Chloris, who am now called Flora." Given the learned and refined sphere in which Botticelli moved, it is highly probable that this is the literary source for the representation.
The Roman statue of Pomona (The goddess of fruit and fruitfulness, the wife of Vertumnus, the god of orchards) Florence, Ufizi, is a likely model of reference for the figure of Flora. The autumn fruit, gathered in a fold of her dress, is here substituted by spring flowers. 
Sandro Botticelli. Allegory of Spring. Detail of Zephyrus and Chloris.

Sandro Botticelli. Allegory of Spring. Detail of Flora.
Sandro Botticelli. Allegory of Spring. Detail of  Mercury.
Sandro Botticelli. Allegory of Spring. Detail of Venus-Humanitas and Cupid.

Detail of the Three Graces

The scene takes place in a thick woods; a blue-gray light filters through from the back, allowing us to glimpse a veiled panorama on the far edge of the horizon. A meadow embroidered with a profusion of flowers forms the soft carpet on which the figures move.