Allessandro Botticelli was a very prominent artist in the second half of the 15th century. He was from Florence, the then artistic capital of the world and lived there most of his life, except for a brief excursion to Rome in order to help decorate the Sistine Chapel. Despite working directly for the pope and making his mark in the center of Catholicism, Botticelli is better known for his mythological based paintings.
The Renaissance was a time of renewal and rebirth. Ideas and philosophies which were rejected or banned entirely during the Middle Ages found new ground during the Renaissance. Ancient philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato found new audiences and were once again taught in classrooms. Acceptable art now included more than just portraits, histories, and religious scenes. Mythological paintings, such as Botticelli’s Primavera, was now considered acceptable art. Though such art would never be bought by high paying customers such as the Pope and archbishops, who often commissioned work for churches and other religious areas, there were patrons for this new secular art.
The Medici’s were a highly influential family that had been in charge of Florence for many years. They were incredibly well to do, being successful businessmen as well, and often backed artistic endeavors and purchased art. These were the new types of patrons Botticelli was catering to. Primavera shows Venus, the goddess of love in the center of the paintings. Mercury, the three Graces, Cupid, Flora, Chloris and Zephyr are all included in the painting as well. It is an allegory for Spring, stemming from Neoplatonic ideas and classical sources and thoughts mingled. There is no real depth to the painting, all of the characters painted without shadows falling over one another or a true background to the piece. The forest behind the figures is shallow and two dimensional, as if the gods, goddesses and other mythological figures painted are all standing in front of a backdrop to a stage. This was painted in the late 1400s, just around the time when depth and perspective were only beginning to come into common use.
A painting only two years later by Botticelli shows this change. The painting Birth of Venus, depicts the mythological story of Venus being born fully grown from the sea. The sea directly behind Venus and the dense forest directly behind Chloris still looks flattened and two dimensional. However the distant sea, where the waves of the ocean meet the sky and distant hills does have some depth. Paintings produced in a more three dimensional style were quickly catching on with artists and patron’s alike, something Botticelli knew, and he strove to meet those demands.Botticelli’s depictions of these timeless stories of ancient myth remain popular today. They touch something within people that cannot be explained, some deeper connection to the past, the literature and legacy left behind by those who walked the earth so long ago, while at the same time striving to break the molds and chains left on painting from the middle ages and bring art further into modern times.