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Artist: Sandro Botticelli
Created: 1482
Dimensions (cm): 314.0 x 203.0
Format: Tempera on wood
Location: Uffizi, Florence, Italy

If Bellini was the master of stillness, then Botticelli was the Renaissance's undisputed master of movement. This is not surprising. In Botticelli's native Florence, no artist could hope for positive critical attention unless he animated la historia (i.e., a narrative) through movement.

Botticelli constructed just such a narrative, through movement, in Primavera. The piece reads from right to left, and is a fable about the power of love, told through the interlinked movement of its figures. In creating his poetic vision, he drew on elements of classical and contemporary poetry, in particular Ovid's Fasti and Poliziano's Stanze. The west wind, Zephyr, blue and cold, bends the trees and rapes the barren winter earth, personified by Chloris. This union transforms her from a shy nymph into the confident, strong Flora. This blossoming is literally depicted: flowers flow from Chloris's mouth, and mingle with the blooms that cover Flora, who, eschewing feminine modesty, scatters blooms from her lap and stares straight out of the frame. The intensity and passion of the opening trio is moderated by Venus (fully clothed, unlike the traditional Classical goddess of love), who is framed by myrtle, symbol of marriage, with her son Cupid above. They govern the dance of the Three Graces, as the central Grace gazes toward Mercury, who brings the narrative full circle. Mercury was not only associated to May, the end of spring, in the Roman rustic calendar, but he was also revered by Renaissance philosophers who felt he symbolized Neo-Platonism, which contended that man could attain a higher spiritual plane through the contemplation of love and beauty. If the piece opened with Zephyr, the cold, violent beginning of spring, it thus closes with Mercury, the warm end, the ascent to a higher level of spirit and truth.

Botticelli's gods are modeled on contemporary art, rather than classical sculpture--the costumes, too, are contemporary instead of ancient. In this work, he brilliantly achieved the Renaissance ideal of elevated lightness and grace of the human form.


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