Botticelli's Birth of Venus - the new art history

Sunday, 5 March 2017

"The Coronation of Venus/Aphrodite" (Venus/Aphrodite crowned by Peitho) - The true meaning of the Birth of Venus.

The Birth of Venus (annotation by p. doughton 2015) 

"Venus/Aphrodite being crowned by Peitho"

(This post is in the process of being edited. My apologies - it's how it works for me atm...)

In Botticelli's well recognised painting the young goddess Venus receives the metaphoric form of her primary sexual differentiation which is presented as 'the crowning glory of the feminine' from the goddess Peitho (persuasion). The painting is generally understood to have been a wedding painting made for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici (1463-1503) second cousin to Lorenzo de' Medici (1449-1492) also known as Lorenzo the Magnificent and  destined to be hung above the younger Lorenzo's marital bed.

The Birth of Venus can be correlated with a brief observation made by Pausanias (c.110 –180 AD) in his 2nd century travelogue Descriptions of Greece where many marvels of Ancient Greece are described from direct observation. The central event of the Birth of Venus can be sourced to this small section of text from the travelogue:

[Amongst the images decorating the throne of Zeus in the temple at Olympia :]
     "...Eros (Love) receiving Aphrodite as she rises from the sea, and Aphrodite is being crowned by Persuasion (Peitho)..."  Pausanias Description of Greece 5.11.8  (1.)

It is highly likely that both the narrative and the conceptual development which drives the image would have been revealed to the wedded couple to enjoy. Botticelli's visualised idea of love and desire seems eternally present because while cosmological myth appears in chronological sequence mythic time is more or less equitable with cosmologic and geologic time frames. The original myth of the Birth of Venus (sea-born from the severed testicles of Uranus) harbours a panspermic origin yet as presented by Botticelli the gravity of the cosmogonic is subordinated to a cultural conversation advancing the idea of the vulva as the dynastic source of social power. As such the Birth of Venus appears philosophical and yet is courtly and perfectly in accord with the time and place of its origin in the Renaissance. 

To those who understood the paintings meaning it must have been seen as beautifully indiscreet - perhaps even wickedly so - because this stylised presentation is suggestive of all of the qualities of the vulva/vagina in art and religion; all connotations sacred and profane, and all of the complexities of femininity which must involve every aspect of the feminine beginning with the child and concluding with the conceptualisation of the Grand Matrona

The paintings argument is fundamentally sexual and should also connote reverence, intimacy, creativity, fecundity as well as pleasure and presents the vulva as the divine crucible in which the bond of love is forged. Because the sight of primary female anatomy is so visually persuasive the sight of the vulva confirms attraction, manifests desire and sets physical love aflame and for these reasons it is the goddess Peitho (persuasion) who crowns the young goddess Venus with this anatomical form. Conceived in the attitude of unity this pairing of vision with persuasion is also found in John Donne's erotic poem (c.1669) Elegy XIX To his mistress going to bed:

[Women] Themselves are mystic books, which only we
(Whom their imputed grace will dignify)
Must see revealed. Then, since that I may know,
As liberally as to a midwife, show 

By this inauguration of Venus (and thereby all vulvae) Peitho confers an all beguiling potential to the vulva and elevates primary sexual differentiation to become exalted as the crowning glory of feminine generative power. As a wedding commission the painting controls this conversation to project the source of the intensity and hypnotic ability of the goddess of love precisely at the moment where Peitho confers that power of persuasion and influence directly to the the vulva/yoni to the young Venus. 

Botticelli's essential focus within the structure of the Birth of Venus is furtively presented by clever use of an inconspicuous fold of cloth which is actually intended to politely represent the mons pubis and the pudendal cleft. When scrutinising the image it may be clearly seen that during the development of the Birth of Venus the paintings Grand Motif  -  the mons pubis metaphor - has altered and that original small fold of cloth held to Venus by her attendant has become fuller, rounded, and more symmetrical. 

Fig. 1. Birth of Venus (Detail)

As though succumbing to Peitho herself Botticelli has pursued his folded metaphoric vulva with greater confidence and where formerly this was a simple fold it has now become more symmetrical and more emblematic. An assertive and more proportionate element has been introduced and with this alteration Ficino's enthusiastic reconciliation of pagan and Christian philosophies seem to appear. Botticelli's original idea now appears to have become emboldened and he has advanced the paintings narrative development to now include the influence of the syncretic philosophies of Marsilio Ficino.  

Fig. 2.  Birth of Venus (Detail)

The overall form of  the cloth has been clearly rearranged and three points of a leaf (fig 2.) emerge from within the depth of that fold.  This plants appearance from the fold of cloth is actually something a magician might do with a coin and a piece of silk and this certainly announces something rather magical. It very much seems that Ficino's influence is being exercised either directly or indirectly and that the three points materialising from the fold actually represent the Christian trinity.  [It is imperative to this argument that a detailed full screen view of this fold be viewed here where a clear view of the alterations made by Botticelli can be clearly defined.] 

While it is possible that these alterations to the grand motif might have come from a number of Lorenzo's tutors (or perhaps even reflectively by Botticelli himself) that passionate 'spiritual guide' that the historian Ernst Gombrich locates in Ficino is still the likely candidate. One senses that Ficino's syncretizing influence has had a persuasive effect on the course of this painting just as the presence of Ficino himself might influence the court and Lorenzo.

Those alterations to the Birth of Venus indicate a dramatic change of mind occurring during the painting's development and with this slight adjustment the coronation which was creatively narrating Pausanias by Botticelli now heralds the goddesses emergence into the world and inversely the emergence of the world from the creative (sexual) nature of the goddess; now the presence of these three points very strongly infer that this is a Christian world emerging from a pagan past - and there you have Ficino!


Fig 3. The Coronation of Venus Anadyomene. Annotated detail with nimbus.

That fold is not simply a possible motif - it has become emphatically emblematic - and the cloth which is embroidered with flowers and leaves emphasises the earthly element so to say this magic has been bestowed the physical vulvae of all women as if to say to the Venusian gender 'as you are intoxicating as you are beautiful as you are powerful'. At no time should it be lost that this painting of 'desire exalted' was designed by men and the act of Peitho crowning Venus stresses the shift from a woman being a merely beautiful object to the goddess becoming obviously an exalted object of great sexual desire. This should be contextualised and considered in the same respectful manner in which the yoni is traditionally revered in Hinduism.

By placing a nimbus around the grand motif (fig 3.) the idea of sanctification becomes clearer and that Peitho is actually crowning Venus will become more readily conceivable. This crowning is the design event and the visual foundation around which the entire painting pivots structurally . The robe presented to Venus by Peitho is not the starry robe as most incorrect attributions often attest (it is clearly 'earthly'). The embroidered design of flowers set upon sumptuous fabric must also indicate the youth of the goddess - consider here Flora's dress in Botticelli's Primavera (c.1482). 


In Rudens ("The Rope") by the Roman playwright Plautus, a character remarks te ex concha natam esse autumant, cave tu harum conchas spernas (Act III, Scene iv, 704): since Venus is said to have been born from a shell, so the goddess should not neglect the "shells" of the two young women who have sought protection at her altar. James Eason: Da Costa and the Venus dione: The Obscenity of Shell Description. 

Fig 4. Mouth or opening of a conch shell.

In the Birth of Venus Botticelli has clearly re-invented that fold as a metaphoric reference to the vulva which may also invoke the mouth or opening of the conch shell. Symbolically the vulva is seen as the earthly counterpart of a divine feminine force whose physical form is to be found in phenomenological correspondences such as certain sea shells.  

Fig 5. Orpheus. (Formerly attributed to Giorgione)Venetian,  c.1515.

Turning to the Widener Orpheus Pan employs the conch to instruct the seated Venus of the sacredness of her form and educate her to the grand correspondences found in nature. The Romans saw this correspondence in the mouth of the conch (figs 4-5.) however the Greeks made supreme the almost perfect form of the cockle/scallop shell which in no way bears any resemblance  to the form of the vulva and this is because the Greeks saw the similitude of the vulva in the flesh of the creature residing inside the cockle shell. These distinctions are actually the fundamental distinctions between the two cultures at core and if we were to press further one might find that the Greeks held no shame in the open graphic understanding the explicit anatomy of the vagina whereas the Romans seemed to have reservations of going beyond the threshold of the mons pubis. The hand that was placed over the pudenda became the hand of shame where for the Greeks this was modesty or embarrassment but there was not the assumed cultural imprint of shame.


The Alterations to the Fold.

In fig. 5 the first joint of the forefinger can be discerned through the overpainting, and the shadow of the gap between forefinger and middle finger can also be detected. Peitho's thumb has been clearly shortened to accommodate the idea of 'grip' and 'pressure' to the added cloth nearest the web of the thumb.

Fig 6. Birth of Venus (detail with annotations).

Referring to fig 6, the straight line markers radiating from positions a & mark the three areas of overpainting which have been added to the original design. Rather than an asymmetric piece of cloth which this section portrayed originally, a large area to the right side has been added - as has a smaller area to the lower left of the fold, giving the form more symmetry and which is far less likely to be misinterpreted as a simple, random fold. Botticelli's addition to the original form expounds upon the importance of the pudenda/shell motif. One can conclude that the annotations made to the cloth were an afterthought because clearly that fold has been developed to present a grander, symmetrical shape; it has become larger, rounded, and more full in appearance, and what this alteration to this small piece of cloth now achieves, is an effect of emblematic significance. 

[A detailed full screen view of this fold can again be viewed here .] 

It appears to my eye that there may have been a petaled flower form - perhaps one of Botticelli's roses - originally emerging from the folded cloth and that faint petals may still be residual (faintly) but which was reinvented in favour of the tri-leaved greenery over the pink of a rose. 

Fig 7. Flora's hand clasping roses. Primavera (detail)

It appears that Botticelli may have been intending to make an association with the roses clasped under the hand of Flora (fig 7.) in the Primavera (c. 1482) for is . If there were originally one of Botticelli's stylised roses (overpainted) from where the tri-leaved plant now emerges the argument for Ficino's influence increases and that plant emerging from the fold also revisits another idea used in the Primavera where plants emerge from the mouth of Chloris. It is common to find elements from an artist's oeuvre to reappear in later works. If so, the grand act - that of Peitho crowning Venus - would remain intact but the painting would have portrayed a beautifully simple visualisation of a pagan narrative but which has now been altered by the emergence of those three leaves which represent the Christian trinity. 

Two contemporary examples of comparably emblematic vulva motifs occur in the recent work of Anish Kapoor. These glossy and distinctly glabrous vulva forms find resonance with Botticelli's vulva abstraction and comparably each Kapoor clearly references the mons pubis, vulva and the pudendal cleft - (a feature which rarely occurs in European classical art). .

Fig. 8. Hysterical Sexual. Anish Kapoor. Fibreglass and gold - 2016

Just as there are metaphoric correspondence between Botticelli's fold and Kapoor's Hysterical Sexual the mouth of the conch shell reveals this metaphoric correspondence in nature. And if one might be uncertain of correctly identifying the abstract form of a vulva Kapoor's titled work  Gold Pussy reinforces the forms intention as a grand motif (fig 9.).

Fig 9. Gold Pussy. Anish Kapoor. Stainless steel and gold, 2015

Fig 10 Three comparable forms reminiscent of the Vesica Piscis (Vesica Pisces).

Fig 11.   Comparing Kapoor's Hysterical Sexual (2016) with comparable vulva motifs.

In a sacred form the vulva is often geometrically designed as the Vesica Piscis. The sacred geometry deifies her and again raises her above men as the matrix of creation, as the matriarch of humanity. She is the Great Mother and Botticelli's fold intends to replicate the form of the pudendum femininum. Botticelli's painting also meets the mathematical requirements of an artwork steeped in the proportions of the Golden Mean and so a secondary proportion involving the geometry of the Vesica Piscis can also be proportioned. This may not be necessary but is certainly worth considering. 


Botticelli's Venus is actually invisible, as the goddess is in the process of being crowned by the physical archetypal form offered her by Peitho (persuasion) and what is more persuasive and appropriate to be sited above the marital bed (the paintings intended site) than an image dedicated to goddess of love and of lovers. Venus/Aphrodite is shown in Botticelli's painting as a divine emanation in the process of her mythical manifestation which is actually narrated as her coronation. That small fold next to the beautiful face of Venus has been obfuscated and overwhelmed by variations on the same interpretation for five hundred years. The immediacy of Birth of Venus always intended to parallel the sum of her beauty in unabashed physical totality: The vulva is the gateway to paradise both temporally and spiritually and here is Botticelli indicating the crowning glory of the goddess.

Fig 10. Birth of Venus (detail) with annotation by the author.
Even without the annotation, the metaphor is as emblematic as before because we now know the intention.

Fig 11. Birth of Venus with annotation by the author.

By altering the fold in the hand of Peitho the painting is no longer a homage to the Greek myth but embraces the pudenda metaphor with an emblematic power. The earthly form of Venus is defined by the primary physical form of her biological sexual differentiation - which is the vulva. In Botticelli's painting the mysteries pertaining to the vulva as the matrix of creation crowns her glory. This is to say that creation and all apparent regeneration of the phenomenological world emerge through the generative force of the feminine and this also alludes on a cosmic scale to the origin of the world. There is an almost tantric attitude underlying this conversation of anatomy, sex and generative power. The painting is specifically feminine and intimately linked with water, salinity, and of course that human key to to a fulfilled experience of divine, cosmic love (conceptual love) - the vulva/yoni. These forms define the crowning beauty of the feminine through from which gates issue the entrance to this dimension through that most genial and irresistibly human form.

Gustave Courbet's The Origin of the World (c. 1886) exhibits the vulva as a benign anatomical fact in the paintings immediate foreground. Bottom, thighs, stomach, breasts & nipples appear in foreshortened concentration as though one may not isolate the vulva from any element of female anatomy. This is presented rather confrontationally pronounced by Courbet's realistic rendering however the anonymity of the subject universalises the dignity of the intention. Here not simply visually but through the intent of the painting's title one might also read now that Botticelli and Courbet are somewhat united philosophically. 

Gustave Courbet's 'L'Origine du monde 1866 (The Origin of the World).

Courbet's realism declares a similar philosophical idea - but without adherence to any particular form of religiosity whereas Botticelli's fold issues the diffusion of the Trinity (the foundations of three dimensional world) through matter.

1. Pausanias Description of Greece 5. 11. 8 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue c. 2nd A.D.) 
Pausanias Description of Greece with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, M.A., in 4 Volumes. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1918.


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Thursday, 14 January 2016

A New Analysis: History and The Outstanding Iconographical Concerns.

Fig. 1. Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus (c.1484-86)Tempera on canvas. 172.5 cm × 278.9 cm (67.9 in × 109.6 in). Uffizi, Florence

Sandro Botticelli's (1445-1510) Birth of Venus (fig.1) was painted for the Florentine Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de' Medici (1463-1503) a younger second cousin to Lorenzo di Piero di Cosimo de' Medici (1449-1492) known as il Magnifico (the Magnificent).

Because the younger Lorenzo was orphaned at the age of 13 years, il Magnifico had his cousin schooled in the ways of the court and tutored by (among others) Angelo (Agnolo) Poliziano and Marsilio Ficino. Extracted from the Media Library of the Palazzo Medici Riccardi (advisory editor Elena Capretti), the early life of Lorenzo runs thus:
"When his father Pierfrancesco died prematurely (1476), Lorenzo was left an orphan at the age of 13. Consequently he and his brother came under the tutelage of Lorenzo il Magnifico, who raised his proteg├ęs along with his own children, ensuring that they were given an education of refined culture. In fact, the tutors of Lorenzo junior included the poet Naldo Naldi, the humanist Giorgio Antonio di Amerigo Vespucci, the philosopher Marsilio Ficino and the erudite intellectual Agnolo Poliziano.Between 1476 and 1490 Ficino addressed to his pupil, whom he called Laurentius minor, a number of letters laden with advice, ethical admonitions, religious exhortations and eulogies, which reflect the founding principles of Lorenzo’s education. Moreover the philosopher was in the habit of presenting his pupil with books designed to mould his character, including his own Liber Vita and a manuscript containing Plato’s DialoguesPoliziano - the principal tutor of the Medici progeny, in whom he infused a love of classical antiquity - dedicated to Lorenzo the Manto of his Silvae, published in 1482, two epigrams in 1484 and an elegy entitled Ad Laurentium Medicem juniorem. Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco therefore grew up in the heart of the cultural and philosophical ambit of the Magnifico’s entourage, sharing its frequentations, interests and ideals.

It was believed by Professor E. Gombrich that Ficino was the 'spiritual mentor' of the young Lorenzo during the period when both the Primavera (c.1482) and the Birth of Venus (c.1484-86) were produced. Where Poliziano may have assisted with the Primavera (there is no proof that he did not) the Birth of Venus may well bear the stamp of Ficino's influence. Gombrich believed in the possibility that the influential proximity of Ficino at the court of the Medici may have allowed Ficino to assert his Neo-Platonic influence on either or both the Primavera and the Birth of Venus. Gombrich states:
What can be argued from the proximity of Botticelli's patron to Ficino and from the circumstances which may have accompanied the first commission of this kind of mythology is that these images were seen as something more than decorations. [Gombrich, 1972, p. 35].
Considering the argument for that claim and the evidence presented by Gombrich - and under the popular acceptance of the paintings as yet unidentified Neo-Platonic meaning, those possibilities must remain theoretical until proved otherwise. However of the Birth of Venus Gombrich is not simply in the ball park - he is already at second base.

According to the Uffizi web site ( the theme of the Birth of Venus is described by Ovid in the Metamorphoses, however the brief reference there refers to the goddess recalling, in the first person as it were, the reference to the Greek word for 'sea foam' which is called Aphrodite:
"I, too, have some influence with the sea, for I was once fashioned from foam, in its divine depths, and my Greek name recalls that origin." Metamorphoses Book IV, p.108

Further, the Uffizi also claims that the Birth of Venus is a Neo-Platonic allegory:
'We can find clear references to the “Stanzas”, a famous poetic work by Agnolo Poliziano, a contemporary of Botticelli and the greatest Neo-Platonic poet of the Medici court. Neoplatonism was a current of thought that tried to connect the Greek and Roman cultural heritage with Christianity.

The painting will need to bear the stamp of Neo-Platonic influence and contain a certain robustness of debate. But because the Birth of Venus and the Primavera differ enormously in subject matter neither painting is at all like the other beyond Botticelli's stylistic virtuosity. It is the Primavera which lacks the Neo-Platonic content, and the fact that these two paintings share nothing in conceptual intent is reflected in the interpretative methods that shall be employed to extract their different meanings.

In most interpretations of the Birth of Venus the description of the arrival of Venus near the shore of Cyprus is widely accepted to have been located in Poliziano's 'Stanze per la Giostra', an epic poem which itself is believed to have been sourced  from several ancient authors (Gombrich, Botticelli's Mythologies, p.74.) 

Poliziano's writing describes the goddess Aphrodite/Venus as 'carried across waves on a conch shell and wafted to shore by playful zephyrs. He writes of the Hours (Horaeand of Venus receiving her celestial raiment by the three sisters (Horae). The three relevant stanzas presented below - XCIX 99, C 100, &  CI 101, describe the Birth of Venus according to Poliziano's pen:
In the stormy Aegean, the genital member is
 seen to be received in the lap of Tethys to drift
 across the waves, wrapped in white foam, be-
 neath the various turnings of the planets; and
 within, both with lovely and happy gestures, a
 young woman with nonhuman countenance, is
 carried on a conch shell, wafted to shore by
 playful zephyrs; and it seems that heaven re-
 joices in her birth.
Explanation: XCIX 99: The genital member were the testicles of Uranus which  were 'received in the lap of Tethys (poetically, the sea) now fertilised by the sea foam (the Greek word for sea-foam = Aphrodite). The 'non-human countenance' describes a goddess who is carried along by the conch shell and wafted to shore by the playful zephyrs (breezes). In this stanza there is a cultural conflict because the translation claims conch shell and not a cockle or scallop as portrayed by Botticelli.
C 100
You would call the foam real, the sea real, real
 the conch shell and real the blowing wind; you
 would see the lightning in the goddess’s eyes,
 the sky and the elements laughing about her; the
 Hours treading the beach in white garments, the
 breeze curling their loosened and flowing hair;
 their faces not one, not different, as befits sisters.
Explanation: C 100: Emphasis is seemingly placed on the realism [but is in fact laying down the iconology of] the foamthe sea, the conch shell and the blowing wind.
CI 101
You could swear that the goddess had emerged
 from the waves, pressing her hair with her right
 hand, covering with the other her sweet mound
 of flesh; and where the strand was imprinted by
 her sacred and divine step, it had clothed itself
 in flowers and grass; then with happy, more than
 mortal features, she was received in the bosom
 of the three nymphs and cloaked in a starry gar-
Explanation: CI 101: Reference is made to her hand covering her 'sweet mound' (a reference to the pudica pose)Venus is received  by the (threeHorae and is cloaked in a starry garment.

Surprisingly the three Horae (hours or seasons) are only very briefly referred to in Ovid's fourth book of the Metamorphoses, and although endorsed in the Uffizi interpretation the Ovidian reference is of little value. In fact the reference quoted of Ovid by the Uffizi is of the sea-born goddess reiterating the origin of her identity through the Greek name for 'sea-foam' (Aphrodite). It is a rather loose cultural association and seems hardly worth the gravitas awarded it by the official Uffizi web site.

That there is only one attendant Hora in Botticelli's painting and not three is extremely problematic.  For example we are expecting the Supremes and what we get is Diana Ross. It is still an excellent performance so the public is not complaining - but the image on the poster does not coincide with the reality. Similarly, in iconographic terms, one female attendant does not equate to the motif of the three - therefore the singular female attendant's identification as a Hora remains questionable. Botticelli may well have had another persona in mind for a critical reason.

Fig. 2. Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus (Detail)

The second problem is the pinkish garment which is held near to the figure of Venus by the single 'nymph'.Botticelli's Venus is about to receive her garment from the lone female figure standing on the shore, but that robe looks decidedly earthly. The issue here is that the garment presented by Botticelli is not a 'starry robe', as described by Poliziano in in the 'Stanze per la Giostra': it is on the contrary most definitely 'earthly' and to emphasise this point the garment is covered with flowers and vegetation - distinctly marking an iconographic departure from Poliziano's original description in stanza CI 101: 
"...cloaked in a starry garment."
Botticelli has not simply creatively deviated from the iconography established in Poliziano's verse, he has completely reversed the cloaks iconographic meaning which now destroys adherence to the literalism of the supposed source. By not honouring the cloak as being celestial in nature completely changes the iconographical import of the action and is an extremely powerful comment that has been iconographically underestimated. If - as Gombrich had suggested - the iconography for both the poem and the painting sourced ancient references which were then composed as a new 'mosaic', these stones, convenient as they are, simply do not fit. 

As starry garments and robes go, the first that springs to mind is the cloak of Mithras, and where that robe is portrayed the iconography is of course integral to the image.

Fig. 3.  Fresco from the mithraeum at Marino, Italy (third century)

The iconographic rule there must be no less important here in understanding the meaning of the Birth of Venus. What we actually see in the Birth of Venus - in direct contrast to the paintings supposed literal source - are two missing nymphs and a substitute for what should have been a specifically 'starry' robe. 

Writers of art history have accommodated this fracture in reason, perhaps in the name of art, which is to conclude that an artist may have flights of fancy or that it is within the imaginative power of the artist to alter at will in the cause of whimsy or pictorial balance etc., and so at first this does not appear to diminish the speculated symbolism. After all, Venus does emerge from a shell near to shore blown by the breezes and there you are; all else is apparently inconsequential - but this is wrong. 
Iconographically, sensible rules make common sense and the iconographic rule will still make sense across all time and across all disciplines because it needs understanding not compensating. 

We are in the privileged position of being able to, at the click of a mouse, consider the cloak of Mithras in direct comparison to the cloak of Botticelli's Venus. As an interdisciplinary exercise we can see that the methodological approach of a fourteenth century Franciscan friar is not incompatible with twentieth century physics. Physicist Stephen Hawking in the popular book 'A Brief History of Time' quotes his variation of the method of William of Ockham:

'It seems better to employ the principle of economy known as Occam's razor and cut out all the features of the theory that cannot be observed." Hawking. p. 59. 
All emphasis here is on that critical line 'cut out all the features of the theory that cannot be observed'. and it is this frugality in regard to iconographical interpretation that is required here. We cannot observe two of the three nymphs because they are not there. We cannot observe the starry robe because it is not there either. In the Birth of Venus' popular theory of meaning there are two missing nymphs and a substitute for what should have been a specifically 'starry' robe. To compensate for the anomalies noted above, the Birth of Venus has become over time an 'ad hoc hypothesis':

"...Occam's razor is not considered an irrefutable principle of logic or a scientific result; the preference for simplicity in the scientific method is based on the falsifiability criterion. For each accepted explanation of a phenomenon, there may be an extremely large, perhaps even incomprehensible, number of possible and more complex alternatives, because one can always burden failing explanations with to prevent them from being falsified; therefore, simpler theories are preferable to more complex ones because they are more testable.

Why then, and how, when iconography and iconology are taken as serious pursuits by historians, has this extraordinary lack of critical judgement perpetuated? After much emphasis by historians on the painting as the product of that noble and erudite environment - the Court of the Medici, one begins to sense now the ego of the scholar as the erudite performer. No longer merely the academic, but now a hybrid creature half scholar and half artist, the art historian desires to be seen (by proxy) as an artist in his own right, in a sense pursuing a carrestist agenda developed as a corollary of academic inflation. 

The association with Poliziano's poem has been wheeled out time and again uncritically, as though that original hypothesis had been held between two mirrors where it is reflected through time and academia ad infinitumJan Assman stated in his book 'Moses the Egyptian':

"Disciplines develop questions of their own and by doing so function as a mnemotechnique of forgetting with regard to concerns of a more general and fundamental character." Assman, p.6
And this is precisely what has occurred in 'acceptable' interpretations of the Birth of VenusPerhaps institutionally, it is actually easier to create ad hoc propositions and seen to be producing than it is to find the time in very busy schedules and go it alone, Support can only be forthcoming from those who have the time and the creative intelligence to see the vision; to bother to tread outside a well beaten path, and university culture (certainly in the arts) seems to have created an almost hostile environment towards innovation and enthusiasm. 

However that may be, all that actually remains are the winds blowing Aphrodite/Venus to the shore, the sea, and a singular figure about to wrap Aphrodite/Venus in 'earthly' garb.  Because the Birth of Venus is missing a starry robe and two Horae, the conclusion can only be that Poliziano's verse is more of a stage prop which has critically very little to do with the more meaningful iconography of Botticelli's painting. These points represent two major iconographic issues in the painting as regards interpretation and we must now become more sensitive and open to any further insights that might be gleaned from the culture that spawned this icon of art history. But to expand upon and elucidate further possibilities there are some rather intense cultural issues to consider.


Ovid, Metamorphoses.
Trans. M.M. Innes 1955. Penguin Books Australia.

E. H Gombrich, Symbolic Images (enter details)

Mediateca di Palazzo Medici Riccardi. (Advisory editor Elena Capretti),iLorenzo il Popolano.

Hawking, Stephen. 1988. A Brief History of Time. Bantam Press, Great Britain.

Assman. J. 1998. Moses the Egyptian: The Memory of Egypt in Western Monotheism. Harvard University Press.