Botticelli's Primavera or Allegory of Spring is an image that never fails to delight the viewer with its beautifully painted figures and delicate details. It has survived numerous events over the years and has been the subject of extensive research.
It still continues to stimulate lively debate. Primavera has been reproduced, copied and admired the world over. At a time when most paintings were of religious scenes, Primavera was likely to have been quite controversial.
The magnificent, original tempura painting on a wooden panel, measuring 202cm by 314cm, hangs in the Uffizi Gallery Museum in Florence.
The History of Primavera
The painting is thought to have been created between 1477 and 1482. It is believed to have been commissioned by one of the powerful and wealthy Medici family members.
Some writers have suggested that it was commissioned by Lorenzo the Magnificent but it seems that is could also have been commissioned by his cousin, Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco di Medici for his wedding on 19th July 1482 to Semiramide Appiano.
Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici was part of the Popolani branch of the family and his marriage to Semiramide was one of convenience rather than love, uniting two powerful families.
In 1975 an inventory of the Medici's "old house" in Via Larga showed that a wooden painting, containing nine figures hung in the ante chamber, a room outside the master bedroom. This painting was the Primavera and it was hung high above a "lettuccio", a type of day bed or settee. Not only did the inventory reveal the presence of the Primavera but also Botticelli's "Pallas and the Centaur". Some experts have suggested that these were companion paintings and hung in the same room. The 1498 inventory estimated the value of the Primavera at 100 Lira.
The nine figures in the painting have been studied over the years and identified as representing mythological figures, the main figure being Venus, Goddess of Love. The setting is an orange-grove, oranges being a symbol of the Medici family in Florence.
The lush growth and flowers indicate that the time of year is Spring and many experts seem to agree that Botticelli has depicted stories, poems and ideas from people such as Ovid and scholars like Poliziano to create this "allegory of spring".
It has also been suggested that the image represents the Neoplatonic ideas of love, blending the Philosopher Plato's ideas of love with Christian values.
Historians Views on Primavera
Naturally there are numerous interpretations of the story depicted in the painting but it is best "read" by starting on the left side of the painting. Here, the blueish-green figure, who appears quite different to the other figures, is Zephyrus, the March Wind.
He swoops down suddenly, his cheeks puffed as he blows in. His robes are flowing and he bends the trees as he moves in and grabs the next figure who is Chloris, a pretty and scantily clad wood nymph. Above Zephyrus, it is important to note that the trees are not yet bearing fruit.
Chloris appears shocked at her sudden abduction and the story continues with Chloris being impregnated or raped by Zephyrus's breath. However, Zephyrus marries her and over time she comes to love him. In Ovid's fifth book of Fasti, Chloris then transforms into Flora, the goddess of flowers and spring. This is represented in the painting by the roses coming out of Chloris's mouth as she transforms into the next figure, Flora.
The Figures Found within this Painting
Flora is a fascinating figure. She is dressed in a beautiful floral gown and scatters new spring flowers which are held in the folds of her dress. Her expression is quite hard to read and she fascinates both the general viewer and art experts. Flora draws the viewer's attention with her serene expression as she gazes out from painting. Above Flora's head, the viewer can see the appearance of fruit on the trees which is a sign of the lush spring growth and fertility. It has been suggested that Flora's expression is that of contentedness, indicating a happy and fertile marriage.
Next to Flora stands Venus, Goddess of Love. The viewer is drawn to Venus who is portrayed in the centre of the painting in a triangular arrangement that would normally feature the Virgin Mary and her son. In this pagan scene, Venus is at the centre of her own garden of paradise. Botticelli seems to have deliberately placed her within a halo, which he has created by shaping the trees behind her into an arch. Above her head is her own son, Cupid (also called Amor). Cupid is winged and blindfolded, for love is often blind and he appears to be shooting one of his arrows at the central figure of the next group of characters.
Here a group of three Graces, possibly Beauty, Chastity and Voluptas hold hands and appear to dance together in a circle. The Graces are beautifully drawn but with some distinct differences which has sparked much debate between experts. For example Voluptas, is said to represent the more lustful side of love. She wears a larger broach, said to represent the Medici colours, which draws more attention to her breasts. Unlike Beauty and Chastity she faces Zephyrus and her hair is a little disheveled and face slightly flushed. Her fingers are drawn in wonderful detail and entwined with Beauty's. Beauty wears a pearl and decoration in her hair, she too wears a necklace but this is slightly smaller. Chastity appears to be without a necklace or jewellery and it is possible that Cupid's arrow is pointing in her direction as she gazes at the next figure, Mercury, in his distinctive winged sandals.
Whereas Zephyrus swoops down to enter the image, Mercury takes the viewer's eye back up as he uses his staff or caduceus to move the clouds. He faces away from the rest of the group and some experts have suggested that he might have been placed there as "protector" of the garden. This idea is reinforced by the prominent display of his sword.
The Purpose of this Commission
If this painting was a wedding gift, the left hand side of the painting may seem inappropriate but in terms of the Neoplatonist ideas that the Medici were interested in, the painting appears to show how carnal love on the left can transform into civilised love and finally into a Divine Love. It can also be seen as love triumphing in the end. This would been an apt and reassuring message for the young, newly wedded couple who had no choice about their marriage. Some art historians have argued that Flora and Mercury are portraits of the bride and groom. This has not been confirmed and if it was the case, their portraits are certainly an idealization of their images. It has also been argued that Venus was modelled on a notable beauty of the time, Simonetta Vespucci, who it appears had captured Botticelli's heart, along with many others. Again this has not been confirmed.
Botticelli's wonderful, delicate details have given this painting an ethereal feel. This is helped by the traditional use of egg tempura. His figures appear graceful and almost weightless. The original painting would have been hung high on a wall and so designed to be viewed from below. His women are graceful and slightly elongated. He gives their clothing a translucent look, with exquisite details and almost lace-like texture in places. The robes and clothing appear to flow, giving a sense of movement and fluidity to the piece. Botticelli would have used soft brushes and made his brushstrokes almost invisible to create some of these effects. Overtime the painting has become much darker, fortunately some restoration took place in 1982.
Primavera and Botany
In addition to the hours of work analysing the story and meaning behind the Primavera, the painting has attracted the attention of botanists who have spent hours identifying the flowers in the scene. There are hundreds of plants and all of them show incredible detail and accuracy. However, it seems that some of the plants, like the coltsfoot and hellebores would not have been in flower in Spring. Some historians have also explored the symbolic meaning of the flowers and plants, such as the seductive strawberries on Flora. Some of the flowers identified in the painting include roses, carnations, periwinkles, daisies and cornflowers, with purple iris appearing at Chloris' feet.
This remarkable painting survived the "Bonfire of the Vanities" in 1497, when thousands of objects, like mirrors, cosmetics and "immoral" works of art were deemed "sinful" and burnt on a huge bonfire. This "bonfire" was encouraged by Priest Savonarola and his followers, including Botticelli. Primavera also survived wartime intact. The painting was stored safely in Montegufoni Castle during the bombing raids of the Second World War.
Naturally it has been copied and reproduced in various formats, even as jewellery and to decorate everyday household items. It has been the inspiration for numerous works of art since. The character of Flora in particular, seems to have fascinated many viewers and her image has been replicated and reproduced many times. In 1956 the Belgium surrealist artist, Magritte, painted a satire featuring Flora's character in front of his own trademark bowler-hatted character. His painting was entitled "Ready-Made-Bouquet".
Botticelli depicted Venus again in an even more daring image, entitled Birth of Venus, which featured the goddess naked. Some sources refer to this as a companion painting but it is probably more accurate to describe it as the Primavera's prequel, although it was painted after the Primavera.
Botticelli did not name Primavera nor leave any details about its commission. It was the art historian, Giorgio Vasari, who named it "Primavera" after seeing it hanging in the Villa Castella in 1550. It has been studied, analysed and interpreted over the centuries but above all it has been admired for its incredible draughtsmanship, detail and beauty. Botticelli's popularity faded during his own lifetime but he was revered by the Pre-Raphaelites and during the early 1900s, numerous articles were written about him, reviving interest in his wonderful art once more.
Primavera is an incredible masterpiece both in terms of Botticelli's painterly skills and the story it tells. Probably ground-breaking for the content it depicted, Primavera deserves the incredible attention and adoration it now receives.
General Discussion on the Paintings
Botticelli's Primavera painting is amongst the most famous to have come from his productive career which spread across the 15th century. This website brings you detailed information on the Primavera painting as well as looking further into the career of Botticelli as a whole. There are also other Botticelli paintings here. There are several images of the original Primavera painting here and each is included alongside links to where you can buy your own copy as a framed giclee art print, poster or stretched canvas from recommended retailer, Art.com.
Allegory of Spring is the alternative name for this painting which was created by Botticelli in 1482 and was made from tempera on panel. It is now held at the Uffizi in Florence, Italy and has been there for many years, becoming one of the major draws of an impressive collection in the city where the Renaissance first began. The original Allegory of Spring stands at an impressive 80 x 124 inches in landscape format, though most who buy reproduction prints of it tend to go for something a little smaller to match modern home walls.
Botticelli's Primavera portrays a scene of mythological characters as was common for this artist and the amount of detail given to each character makes it a highly interesting painting which can keep your attention for a prolonged period. The painting is seen as a symbolic depiction also of Spring thanks to the background items which sit behind the mytholigical portraits and occasionally interacts with them, particularly in the case of the cherubs who fly above Venus.
Venus remains a key figure in many works from Italian Sandro Botticelli and her graceful figure makes her lift each and every work in which she appears, normally as the central figure. The artist also spent a considerable amount of time on the flowers and trees in the painting as well as the characters, actually going to the trouble of including over 100 different species which gives the original an incredible depth of interest. During the Renaissance periods if was quite common for artists to take several years to complete a major work, including regular revisions as their artistic minds wandered in different directions.
All of the links included within this website offer Primavera as a high quality print for those looking to add one of Botticelli's finest paintings to their home or office wall. Artist Sandro remains one of the most popular within the whole of Art.com's Renaissance section and his Primavera work is one of his most prominent of all. We regularly use Art.com's store ourselves for several of our favourite Italian painters and so are more than happy to recommend them to you here.
Primavera is not only popular as the full art work which was produced by the artist, but also several key sections of it are also sometimes ordered as copies, cropped areas taken from the overall piece allowing greater detail on these particular objectes. Detailed elements worth checking out have included Flora who stands immediately next to Venus, Mercury who may have been modeled after Giuliano de Medici, Zephyrus and Chloris who are to the far right of the painting, plus also The Three Graces who play together to the nearest left of Venus.
Pallas and the Centaur was completed by Botticelli in the same year as Primavera and although they took different lengths of time to complete, they are believed by many to actually be complementary pieces which fitted together in a way that many artists from more recent art movements have produced whole series of paintings, such as Seasons by Alphonse Mucha and the Haystacks series by French impressionist Claude Monet.
The general belief of Primavera is that it offers a symbolic and flattering way of depicting a woman's fertility and therefore it can be considered that all of the species of plants which decorate the piece are of considerable significance and not just aesthetic touches to complete the work which many may at first believe. This painting has received as much study and research as almost any other painting from the Renaissance period but few complete decisions have ever really been made, leading to yet more conjecture over the meaning of the painting, the significance of the other characters besides Venus and many other issues related to this work.
The Primavera painting continues to bring pleasure to art fans right across the world thanks to the incredible success of the Renaissance art movement plus Botticelli's own status as one of the most significant contributors to it, alongside other masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo and Raphael. Primavera is believed to be a personification of Spring and the nature sitting behind her helps to get across the idea of fertility.
Mythological and allegorical paintings were distinctly common during this period of artistic development which was led from Italy and continued around the rest of Europe. Religion played a huge role within the country of this provincial region at this time, even more than it does today, and so it was inevitable that such topics would feature frequently within the art works of the major names of Italian art during that period.
List of Famous Sandro Botticelli Paintings
Please see below for a summarised list of the best Botticelli paintings that are featured throughout this website.
Venus and Mars
Adoration Of The Magi
Tom Gurney in an art history expert. He received a BSc (Hons) degree from Salford University, UK, and has also studied famous artists and art movements for over 20 years. Tom has also published a number of books related to art history and continues to contribute to a number of different art websites. You can read more on Tom Gurney here.