O.K., I know to the art snobs it’s kind of banal, but I am a devotee of Botticelli. To me there’s something absolutely supernatural about his masterpieces, a neo-Platonic contemplation of beauty that produces the purest kind of aesthetic experience, one that both partakes of and transcends this world. Because of my love for Botticelli and his world I can’t resist picking up guidebooks to Florence and the Uffizi gallery when I see them, and have built up quite a collection. There are many, many of them, and everyone seems to inevitably buy one when they go there and just as inevitably get rid of it when they come back.
To me it’s evidence of the unearthly power of Botticelli that even in these ephemeral, sometimes anonymous works, the task of describing his paintings, especially Spring and Birth of Venus, seems to inspire a rare poetic eloquence as the indifferently translated author grasps at the ineffable.
Here’s some examples from guidebooks I’ve picked up recently:
Florence: Cradle of the Italian Art by Loretta Santini
Sandro Botticelli – Artist with an exquisitely delicate style and refined taste. In his compositions, animated by a melancholy and musical rhythm, relive the classical myths of Spring, Venus, Zephyr and Flora.
The UFFIZI: All paintings in 696 illustrations and the Vasari Corridor by Luciano Berti
Botticelli soon, however, developed a poetic style all his own, in which movement has a sense of musical continuity, the sinuous line refines the forms almost as in Gothic painting, and the decorative effects remove his vision even further from any connection with common reality. Botticelli, as G. C. Argan has recently said, expresses the spirit of contemporary Florentine Neo-Platonic philosophy "generated by the aspiration to something which one has not, or by nostalgia for something one has lost."
Against the dark background of the flowery meadow and the orange grove, in an almost watery light, the action of Primavera is flowing and rhythmical. In the center attention is concentrated on Venus: and the group of the three Graces, whose nakedness is made chaste by veils of incredible delicacy, is musical in its movement. The figures may be inspired by a pagan myth, but they have none of the coldness of borrowing from archaeology, but rather a nervous vitality which is entirely modern in spirit.
Some critics interpret Birth of Venus as Beauty being born of the union of Spirit with Matter, or Idea with Nature. And we can certainly see as an incarnation of pure beauty the figure in the midst of the wide and luminous seascape, even if her loveliness, for all its freshness, has overtones of subtle melancholy.
The Uffizi: New Complete Guide by Claudio Pescio
Despite the fact that it was painted eight years after Primavera, Birth of Venus reveals the same melancholy, nostalgic spirit, the same delicately modeled figures, here culminating in the ethereal naked Venus rising out of the sea, and the same wealth of symbolic meaning derived from neo-Platonic thought. Once more Venus is at the centre of a complex, extraordinarily densely significant work. According to neo-Platonic thought, Man communicates with the Divine through Love; the central position of the erotic element underlies the central position of the Goddess of Love in all of the mythological representations of the period.
The Venus of the Birth is a Venus Pudica and the double nature of Love (chastity and sensuality) is wholly expressed in the simple gesture of the goddess, that unites the two aspects symbolizing the way humanity has to take in order to overcome its earthly confines to achieve the divine. Upon closer examination the classical, harmonious symmetry of the picture is disrupted by indefinably dissonant elements such as Venus’s "excessively" long neck, the oddly jointed left arm, the conventionally rendered waves, all of which are obscurely disquieting.