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Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1484–1486


Ophelia

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Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus was the first full-length, non-religious nude since antiquity, and was made for Lorenzo de Medici. It’s claimed that the figure of the Goddess of Love is modeled after one Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci, whose favors were allegedly shared by Lorenzo and his younger brother, Giuliano. Venus is seen being blown ashore on a giant clamshell by the wind gods Zephyrus and Aura as the personification of spring awaits on land with a cloak. Unsurprisingly, Venus attracted the ire of Savonarola, the Dominican monk who led a fundamentalist crackdown on the secular tastes of the Florentines. His campaign included the infamous “Bonfire of the Vanities” of 1497, in which “profane” objects—cosmetics, artworks, books—were burned on a pyre. The Birth of Venus was itself scheduled for incineration, but somehow escaped destruction. Botticelli, though, was so freaked out by the incident that he gave up painting for a while.

 

 

 

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