Sandro Botticelli painted the Birth of Venus between 1484-85.
The painting shows the triumphant Goddess of Love and Beauty. The Romans knew her as Venus, while for the Greeks she was Aphrodite. She stands tall and naked at the centre of the canvas, looking ethereal and luminous. She seems to draw all attention to herself; a symbol of beauty, who is both physical and spiritual.
Venus, according to the Greek poet Hesiod who wrote the Theogony, was born out of sea foam. The story goes that the God Uranus had a son named Cronus who overthrew his father, castrating him and throwing his genitals into the sea. This caused the water to be fertilised, and Venus was born.After her birth she came ashore on a shell, pushed along by the breath of Zephyrus, the god of the west wind.
In the painting we see Zephyrus embracing the nymph Chloris. The girl about to cover Venus with a flowery mantle is thought to be one of the Hours. They were the mythological handmaidens of Venus who also had power over the natural cycle of the seasons. The island she arrives at is Cyprus, or Citharea.The breath of Zephyrus was believed to have the power to fertilise and create new life. His embrace with the nymph symbolises the act of love.
The muse who inspired many of Botticelli’s women, included this Venus, was a well-known young blonde woman living in Florence at the time. Her name was Simonetta, and she was the wife of Marco Vespucci. Simonetta was a legendary beauty, and the Medici were besotted with her. She died very young, at the age of 23, and is buried in Ognissanti Church in Florence. Botticelli asked to be buried at her feet, and the Vespucci family agreed. You can still see their tombs in this church today.