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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:47

Painting in central Italy

Video transcript

(piano playing) Dr. Steven Zucker: We're looking at one of the great Sandro Botticelli's and also one of the most enigmatic, The Primavera. Dr. Beth Harris: Which means spring. In the center we see Venus in her sacred grove looking directly out at us. Dr. Zucker: The figures in the foreground are parted to allow Venus an unobstructed view of us and for us to look back at her and perhaps even to enter into the space. Dr. Harris: The trees around her part to show us the sky, so there's almost a sense of a halo around her. Dr. Zucker: It's true, there's a half circle. Actually, I read that as almost architectural, almost as an apps and it reminds us that usually what we would find in a space like this from the Renaissance would be the Virgin Mary in an ecclesiastic environment, but here we have a natural or mythic environment and we have Venus. Dr. Harris: Right. I mean, here we are. We're in the Renaissance. One definition of the Renaissance is that it's a rebirth of ancient Greek and Roman culture and here we have an artist who's embracing a pagan subject, the subject of Venus. And also other elements from ancient Greek and Roman Mythology. Yeah. Dr. Zucker: Lots of ancient Greek and Roman figures. Dr. Harris: We have the three graces on the left. Dr. Zucker: So, let's talk about who they are for just a sec. This is a subject that was very popular in Roman statuary and it was an opportunity that allowed for a sculptor to show the human body from three sides simultaneously, so that is you multiply the figure and you just turn them slightly each time so that you really see a figure in the round. Dr. Harris: And then on the far left, we have the God Mars, who's the God of war. He's put away his weapon. Dr. Zucker: He's at peace in her garden. Dr. Harris: Who wouldn't be at peace in her garden? Look at it. It's fabulous and we're not sure exactly what he's doing. He's got a stick in his hand. He may be pushing away the clouds that appear to be coming in from the left. Dr. Zucker: Only a sunny day in paradise. Dr. Harris: Absolutely. And then on the right, we have three more figures, Zephyr, a God of the wind, who is ... Dr. Zucker: He is ... That's the blue figure. Dr. Harris: That's the blue figure who is abducting the figure of Chloris who, you can see, has a branch with leaves coming out of her mouth that collides with the figure next to her who is the figure of Flora. So, they may be one in the same person. Dr. Zucker: In other words, the actual abduction of Chloris might actually result in Flora and what Flora is doing here, is she's reaching into her satchel, which is full of blossoms, which she seems to be strewing or sewing on this, sort of, carpet of foliage below. This is, after all, Primavera. This is spring. Dr. Harris: Spring. Dr. Zucker: Yeah. Dr. Harris: So, there's a sense of the fertility of nature. Dr. Zucker: There's one other figure, which is Venus' son just above her, blindfolded. This is, of course, Cupid, who's about to unleash his arrow on one of the unwitting graces and, of course, he doesn't know who he's going to hit, but we can sort of figure it out. Dr. Harris: Typical of Botticelli, we have figures who are elongated, weightless, who stand in rather impossible positions. Things that we don't normally expect from Renaissance art. Dr. Zucker: So, this really is at odds with many of the traditions that we learn about when it comes to the 15th century. This is not a painting that's about linear perspective. There's a little bit of atmospheric perspective that can be seen in the traces of landscape between the trees, but beyond that this is a very frontal painting. It's very much a freeze and it very much is referencing what we think might be a literary set of ideas. Art historians really don't know what this painting is about and we've been looking for texts that it might refer to. Dr. Harris: And, in a way, it doesn't really matter to the throngs of people who come to see it and to me because it's incredibly beautiful and it may be that because it has no specific meaning, it's easier for us in the 21st century to enjoy it. Dr. Zucker: There are lots of passages here that are just, I think, glorious. If you look at the daffiness quality of the drape that protect the graces, for instance, and the tassels there. They're just beautiful. I'm especially taken where the hands of the graces come together in those three places, creating a kind of wonderful complexity and beauty and just a kind of visual invention that is playful and an expression of a kind of complex notion of beauty. One of the ways in which this painting is understood is it's possibly as a sort of neo-platonic treatise or a kind of meditation on different kinds of beauty. Dr. Harris: Venus herself is astoundingly beautiful. She tilts her head to one side and holds up her drapery and motions with her hand and looks directly at us. And in a way it's impossible not to want to join her in the garden. (piano playing)