Primavera: Love is All Around

Tuesday April 26th 2011
Yesterday, we walked through purple violets, pale yellow primroses and cowslips, pink campion and bluebells. White petals from the mayflower tree spattered the ground beneath our feet and scented the air around us.

Truly, the goddess of beauty, Venus, rules.

Who doesn’t love this time of year when the goddess of fertility and love waves her wand and the world bursts forth flowers?

Botticelli’s Allegory of Spring or Primavera, which lives in the Uffizi
Gallery in Florence and also in the visual memory of almost everyone.

The Sun has moved from Mars-ruled Aries to Venus-ruled Taurus. This is the time of the fixed earth sign, when spring is at its most bountiful.

Our walk through burgeoning meadows and woodland brought to my mind Sandro Botticelli’s famous depiction of spring, which sums up this moment in the year, when love blooms out of the Earth herself.

Primavera (c.1480) is one of the most written about paintings in the world, probably because no one quite knows the painter’s intentions. Some context we are sure about though: Botticelli was working in the midst of Renaissance Florence at a moment when classical literature about the nature of the world, was being rediscovered and mined for inspiration. In particular, he was part of the circle under the sway of the most influential thinker of the time, philosopher, astrologer, teacher, translator, Marsilio Ficino.

There are many layers of meaning to Primavera, but one of them is certainly astrological.

Venus (in the centre) is demure and matronly rather than erotic, because here she is in her guise as the goddess of pure love. She raises one hand in blessing and seems to preside over this group of mythical characters dancing through a beautiful orange grove carpeted with flowers.

Reading the painting from right to left (as generally accepted), the rough winter wind, Zephyr blows the nymph Chloris, who speaks in darling buds, and transforms her into Flora, the personification of spring blossom.

“As she talks, her lips breathe spring roses:
I was Chloris, who am now called Flora.” Ovid, Fasti

The Three Graces – Pleasure, Chastity, Beauty – dance towards summer in an eternal round. They are the target of Cupid’s arrow. He floats in the centre of the picture above his mother, because this is a picture about the moment just before love strikes. The scene is set; love is all around. Who knows which maiden will succumb to Cupid’s love dart? Is it the one who gazes over at handsome Mercury raising his caduceus to the sky. Is it Chastity about to be pierced and fall in love with the god of intellect?

Mercury is on the left, looking out of the picture towards the rest of the year. The astrological symbolism in the painting is clear. Venus rules Taurus; Mercury rules Gemini. Mercury is waiting his turn. It’s interesting that his arm is raised as if he is looking up at the Sun, an idea echoed by the round oranges in the grove behind. At the end of Mercury’s month, of course, the Sun will be at its highest. Right now it is still climbing through the heavens.

Lorenzo de Medici, the Italian banker-prince who commissioned the painting, had Mercury and Venus conjunct at the top of his chart, a fact of which Botticelli would doubtless have been aware.

Another astrological reading is this. Again from right to left, there are eight months, starting with February (Zephyr), March (Chloris), April (Flora), May (Venus), June, July and August (the Three Graces) and ending in September, another month ruled by Mercury, of course, as ruler of Virgo.

In all interpretations, Venus, the goddess of love and of right now, is central. Her message here: love is glorious, especially in the springtime.


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  1. moonchild says:

    I’ve just come across this piece following the link in your sidebar. It’s a total revelation to me. I’ve spent my whole life -like a lot of people- with this painting floating somewhere around in my memory – but I never saw this symbolism so clearly. I think both explanations are probably right and if we dig deeper we’d find another one.

    Thank you Christina

  2. I agree with moonchild! I never knew the symbolism of this painting, other than it had Venus in it. Thanks for posting it!

  3. Sabrina says:

    Such a wonderful painting! It’s always fascinating to learn the astrological influences in art. So interesting the connection with Lorenzo de Medici’s chart. Thanks for re-posting this one!

  4. […] Readers of this blog will know that I think Botticelli — like any educated person in the court of Lorenzo de Medici — was well versed in astrological symbolism and used it in his painting sometimes. Click here to see how it works for Primavera. […]