The Graces have the privilege of covering Venus' nudity and transforming her into
the mother and patron saint of all the forces of creation. Venus is in the
process of landing. It should be pointed out that the shore she is landing on
is very rugged and already has tall trees, both laurel and myrtle, and that the
trees are crowded together, their foliage obscuring one another.
Here are several details to make us aware of Venus' triumphant splendor. We know that until recently, this Birth of Venus had been lavishly covered with varnish, which means that the successive coats of varnish had finally completely opacified. The two paintings were superbly cleaned, and we have now discovered a new Botticelli: pearly flesh, nearly translucent, skin so fine that we have the impression that we can almost see the sea through it. All of the marvelous qualities of Botticelli's painting only appeared after it had been cleaned.
This is the heroic group of winds. In fact, in their disorder, they represent the original chaos, as Venus was born from this chaos which thus pushed her to take over the world. An admirable Grace with the cape which she has prepared to cover Venus with the flowers and fruits of the earth, as she shall become Venus Flora and Pomona. She will be all that and, as the sacred Venus, she will be the mistress of the gods and goddesses of Olympus. This Grace has a superb face, which Ingres had always maintained was the most beautiful face ever painted (he always liked chinless women). The apparent movement in the light of the white dress covered with cornflowers does not come from its folds, but rather from the play of the cornflowers' blues, the sunlit parts, the shaded parts, the parts in the foreground, the parts in the background all sculpted by the cornflowers covering these fields which cause the beauty of this Grace's body to dominate the painting, who is one of the most beautiful parts of the Birth of Venus.
Mercury extends his caduceus to stop the wind which had been blowing
earlier with Zephyr and his brother and, at the same time, stops winter from becoming
spring. The striking group of the three Graces, perhaps the most beautiful ever
painted, is the affirmation of Primavera, that is, Spring, which Venus is still
facing. Then time passes, and we see the affirmation of summer, represented
here by Flora, whose robe is now, so to speak, made of flowers and who is
strewing flowers, the product of her generosity, on the ground. And autumn by
Chloe, who is nearly timidly turned toward a blue and somewhat terrifying
character who is trying to catch her. This character is Zephyr who, at one time,
forgot to blow, because he was chasing the nymph, Chloe through the woods.
What is absolutely extraordinary, if one thinks back to the Birth, is that we have Zephyr, Venus and a Grace in the first painting, and here, we have Mercury, the Graces, Venus, Flora, Chloe and Zephyr. It all begins and ends with Zephyr; the two paintings thus form a complete cycle of seasons - winter, spring, summer and autumn. This was all done in order to show us nature's cycle which is so inherent to the Hesiodic Neo-Platonic inspiration for people such as Marsilio Ficino, Pico della Mirandola and others who dreamed of that period. But it also shows us the primacy of sacred love, as it is incarnated here, over profane love, over the fragility of the water and the shell in the preceding work. In fact, all the allusions could be studied at much greater length to show all the similarities between the two paintings. For the time being, let's take a walk through Spring.
On the left, Mercury and the Graces and, above all, the very beautiful image of Mercury raising his caduceus to stop the clouds and the wind in order to allow the Graces to dance peacefully - nothing could be more beautiful. The robes appear to be transparent but aren't, as one can barely make out the bodies. The bodies are part of the dance, as the cloth really dances and the arm movements, in particular, are sublime. Then we have Venus in the center of the composition, in this nearly solemn pose she has assumed, a matron presiding over the year, as it develops with the character of Flora, one of the loveliest details of Spring, and Chloe and Zephyr, the last three characters whose dancing, here again, is the exact counterpoint to the group of the three Graces.
Details of Flora's face, the best-known in Botticelli's works, of Flora's robe, which is like a rendering of the Grace's robe in the Birth of Venus. All of her movements are also the result of a deliberate distortion of the flowers and the bouquet of flowers she is preparing to throw to the world. Finally, Chloe, pursued by Zephyr who, in both instances has the same distended cheeks; in one case, he is blue, this is the winter Zephyr, in the other, the Birth of Venus, he is nearly yellow, this is the spring Zephyr.
Leaving these paintings which represent one of the heights of Botticelli's profane painting, we hope that we have succeeded in demonstrating the extent to which it responds to an iconographic program, the extent to which this program is a myth and the extent to which the myth is meant to educate us about the primacy of sacred love over profane love. It is paramount to be aware of this, as we can already note that in the Christian paintings, Botticelli never even tries to educate. On the other hand, in the pagan paintings, from Mars and Venus on and mostly with the Birth of Venus and Spring, we can see that there is an attempt at education. It is rather extraordinary to realize that Botticelli is more at ease in this mythical didactic role with the "pagan" gods than with his perennial Christianity.