Botticelli’s Primavera and the Poetic Imagination of Italian Renaissance Art
By Paul Barolsky
Arion, Vol.8 (2000)
Introduction: Toward the center of a bower of love, the goddess of love herself, hand raised delicately in sweet salutation, beckons the beholder into her beflowered dream world, a pleasance or locus amoenus, a place of pleasure and beauty, of love past, indeed of ancient primordial love renewed as Zephyr pursues Chloris who is transformed into Flora before our very eyes. At Venus’ side the goddess’s handmaidens, the Graces, embody their very grace in dance, while Cupid above, personification of desire, aims his flaming arrow at one of these three sisters. Turned away as if indifferent to them, Mercury gazes heavenward in contemplation of what lies beyond this enchanted world permeated by mute music, silent song.
The Primavera is now so much a part of our historical consciousness and aesthetic heritage that it is hard to believe that after Vasari briefly mentioned it in his Lives of the artists from the middle years of the sixteenth century, the painting was all but forgotten until the end of the nineteenth century, when Botticelli’s art was rediscovered. The painter’s lyrical work was eclipsed by the taste for the grand manner of Raphael and the art that followed him, which dominated the modern sensibility until the revival of interest in the pre-Raphaelite.
Botticelli’s picture is now almost universally believed to be a work described in an inventory of 1499 of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici, cousin of the more famous Lorenzo il Magnifico. It is widely held that the picture was made in the first place for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco, a significant patron who also commissioned Botticelli to illustrate the Divine Comedy and who was a patron and sponsor of the painter’s younger friend Michelangelo.