The virtue of Venus
A landmark exhibition explores Brand Botticelli
Everyone knows her. She has been imitated by artists from Ingres, Degas, Gustave Moreau and Raoul Dufy to Andy Warhol, Orlan, David LaChapelle and Robert Rauschenberg. She has appeared on objects as humble as a tea towel and as fancy as a Dolce & Gabbana dress; she has been referenced in films, including Dr No. She is so recognisable that she has become a shorthand for feminine beauty. Botticelli’s Venus is a legend.
Which is odd, when you consider that after his death in 1510, in relative penury at the age of 64, Botticelli slipped under the waves of obscurity as smoothly as his golden-haired goddess sails across the sea on her oyster shell. For a long time he was chiefly remembered for his illustrations to Dante’s Divine Comedy (some of which are on display at the Courtauld Institute in London). It wasn’t until the late 18th and early 19th centuries that he re-emerged — first with the re-evaluation of his later, religious pictures, and then with the championing by the pre-Raphaelites of his earlier mythological paintings, such as Venus — but he has made up for lost time.
Now the Victoria and Albert Museum in London is
The Uffizi in Florence, main; The Birth of Venus, above left; Botticelli Reimagined, at the V&A, right