Venus and Mars

Venus and Mars
Artist Botticelli
Year c. 1483
Medium Tempera on panel
Dimensions 27 in x 68 in
69 cm x 173 cm
Famous Paintings by Botticelli
Fortitude
Adoration of the Magi
The Birth of Venus
Primavera
Cestello Annunciation
Saint Augustine
Venus and Mars
The Mystical Nativity
Temptations of Christ
Complete Works

Completed in 1483, Botticelli’s Venus and Mars is one of the more puzzling paintings that tackle a particular subject which was quite popular among Renaissance painters. In Botticelli’s painting, a beautiful and youthful Mars lies asleep, clearly spent.

Description

Mars is naked, save a strategically placed cloth whose folds and shadows have been exquisitely rendered by the artist. Baby satyrs gambol about with his armor while one blows into a shell to wake him.

What’s odd about the painting is Botticelli’s Venus, who is not only wide awake, but reclines fully dressed and without a hair of her elaborate coiffure out of place. Her gown, made of a diaphanous white fabric with gold embroidery is equally undisturbed. Is the goddess so powerful that she can knock a man out with only her gaze?

Speaking of Venus’ gaze, it is cool and detached and not focused on either her lover or the odd looking creatures with their fur clad thighs, goat feet, large pointed ears and budding horns, that are making fun of him. The viewer isn’t so much invited to partake in some post-coital languor as he is to appreciate the painter’s mastery of the adult human form in repose. Botticelli’s also fairly good, we notice, at scampering babies.

Painting Medium

The painting was done in tempera on panel. Tempera is a type of paint where the pigment is mixed with a binder, like egg yolk. Tempera dries quickly and while it doesn’t have the richness of oil paint, it doesn’t darken or suffer other kinds of adulterations over time.

The scene takes place in a forest glade, and through a vista between the trees the viewer can see plains and a hint of mountains. A nice touch and a nod to Botticelli’s patrons comes in the form of the wasps who emerge from a hole in a tree behind Mars’ head. The family who commissioned the painting was said to be the Vespuccis, and their symbol was the wasp. Indeed, the model for Venus was allegedly the beautiful Simonetta Vespucci, which probably accounts for this Venus’ sangfroid.

Botticelli’s Venus and Mars now resides in The National Gallery in London, U.K.

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