How Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” Challenged Depictions of the Nude in Art
Art Business

How Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus” Challenged Depictions of the Nude in Art

The origin story of Venus, the mythological goddess of beauty and sex, begins dramatically—with a castration of godly proportions. During an epic battle between two gods, Saturn severs Uranus’s phallus and jettisons it into the sea. From these restless, briny waters, where Uranus’s semen becomes the seafoam, an impossibly lovely goddess emerges. Fully formed and in the buff, Venus floats to the shore of Cyprus on a shell, ferried by a soft breeze blown by Zephyr, god of wind, and attended by ethereal nymphs. Even if the juicy details aren’t familiar, the famous image of Venus’s creation probably comes to mind. Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli ’s Birth of Venus (ca. 1484) has become one of the world’s most recognizable, celebrated, and parodied paintings—a touchstone of rowdy art-historical debate and pop culture alike. In Botticelli’s vision, an alabaster-skinned, elongated Venus stands casually on an open shell, her strawberry-blonde hair cascading down the side of her bare, serpentine body. On her left, a winged Zephyr intertwines with a figure who is perhaps Aura, goddess of spring winds; together, their almighty breath pushes Venus to land. To Venus’s right, a nymph, usually characterized as the Hora of spring, is poised to wrap […]

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