by Master Artist Shereen Miller Ph.D
What gives Botticelli’s masterpieces a lyrical quality, timeless and enduring?
Inherently gifted, the true creators of Fine Art are scholars by nature, invariably drawn toward the unconscious content of the human psyche where ancient legends, archetypes and alchemic symbols lie at its fundamental constitution. This affords immense aesthetic pleasure in summarizing large volumes of information into visual axioms for the evolution of all that exists.
Indeed, the joyful expression of the creative force is not without its obligation toward the human and universal cause if it is to transcend the idiosyncratic trends of space and time and remain the inspiration of humanity.
Italy’s Renaissance Capital of Florence
It was an autumn afternoon in Tuscany, September 1987 as I walked along the main street of Florence that still reverberated with the fiery spirits of Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael who had vied with each other for preeminence and in the end, left behind the power and beauty of their creative force.
Etched against the Renaissance landscape, Michelangelo’s fourteen-foot-tall marble sculpture of David stood in iconic splendor. Nearby, his equally imposing sculpture of Moses tucked inside a tiny medieval Florentine church impelled a spontaneous urge to touch its cool exterior. Suddenly, five centuries of time eclipsed in one magical moment of silent, rapturous reconnaissance. Perhaps there has always been an unconscious connection to these past revolutionaries of Fine Art.
However, nothing prepared me for the exhilaration experienced in the tiny Ufizzi Gallery that has since undergone significant expansion. A rare privilege to view Renaissance masterpieces in their virgin state, untouched by technology, tempera panels displayed on wooden easels that spoke of the essential human spirit as I wove in and out of this highly charged creative atmosphere.
The Essential Botticelli
Like all true artists Botticelli moved to his own creative rhythm. He understood the alchemy of the human spirit, the subtle laws of timelessness and the powerful role of a true creator. Surrounded by philosophers and poets, Botticelli’s paintings reflected the romantic idealism in which he was immersed creating two of the most lyrical works in the history of Fine Art, the Birth of Venus and Primavera.
Although much has been written about the Birth of Venus — tirelessly repetitive information, the same criticisms and observations, time and again reshuffled by various writers — let us view this painting from a different perspective: through the eyes of true creativity with respect to certain historical facts that will always remain pertinent.
Botticelli was criticized for the low relief and linearity of his figurative work that was not indigenous to the chiaroscuro style of Renaissance Realism. But what has never been understood is that the soft molding of Botticelli’s figurative forms in the Birth of Venus and its graceful linear interplay is precisely what gives the painting its lyrical quality. We are magnetized toward such visual images of Art because of its deep resonance.
Again, Botticelli was criticized for the elongated neck and torso of Venus, her unusual stance and position on the open shell, the unrealistic embrace of the Wind element and the absence of perspectival space. According to his critics, Botticelli could have been more accurate in the technical rendering of his figurative forms that lacked depth and volume. But Botticelli must have understood that such pedantic rendering could often sabotage a subtle perception of movement in a work of art.
From a creative point of view the slight curve of the body with the tilted head captured the vulnerability and sensitivity of a shy, young Venus, the iconic symbol of feminine beauty and love.
Realism, like every other genre of Fine Art, has its own parameters and protocols but a master artist knows how to remain on its defining edge that precipitates certain creative liberties when the creative imagination springs into play. Is it possible to portray the tenderness of the human heart, through the silent language of form and color alone?
The Greco-Roman Influence
The Greco-Roman influence had inspired Botticelli’s works. He used the Greek sculpture of Aphrodite [Cnidos] as his model for Venus, continuing the Greco-Roman mythological tradition that had existed for centuries. The Greek goddess Aphrodite dates back to Homer’s Iliad of the Bronze Age. She was one of the three virgins that competed and won the golden apple for her beauty.
Aphrodite was to the ancient Greeks the epitome of feminine beauty, love, grace and fertility as Venus was to the Romans.
The legends and mythologies of ancient philosophy that have structured the human psyche strikes an unconscious chord within all humanity. In this context there were many paintings of the iconic Venus executed before and after Botticelli that date as far back as 79 AD in Pompeii, spanning almost 2000 years. These various versions include Giorgione 1510, Titian 1538, Tintoretto 1551 to Cabanel 1863, Manet 1863, Bouguereau 1879 and my version of Venus accomplished in 1982.
Botticelli took three years to complete the Birth of Venus [1482-85]. He followed the Golden Rule in Fine Art and created a triangular composition with three points of visual interest drawing the viewer’s attention to the focal point, Venus, positioned slightly off center to prove his compositional skill. He depicted space, earth, water and wind to complete four of the five elements of the universe. The complex embrace [Zephyrus and Chloris] of the Wind principle on the left was meant to balance the goddess of Spring on the right.
However, had Botticelli employed a softer line of horizon it would have given his painting a more spatial perspective.
Remarkably, at twenty five years, Botticelli had his own workshop that gave him the courage to define his creative ideologies. For the next two decades he reveled in his creative freedom until he came under the strong religious influence of Savonarola and took a traumatic, diametric turn that eventually destroyed him. He never again moved within the enchanted world of creativity in which Nature had once nurtured his sensitive, lyrical soul.
In the final analysis, the Birth of Venus reminds humanity to live life in light-hearted cadence to the rhythm of the universe.
“Art has no end but to its own perfection”
- Plato 427 BC
Shereen Miller Ph.D is a National and International Award winning Fine Artist, 72 Solo and Collective Exhibitions in America, Asia, Europe and Africa, hailed a genius worldwide, placed in the distinguished tradition of Leonardo da Vinci by America’s YALE University, a published Poet, Philosopher and Author.