Masterpiece Stories

Mars And Venus, Sandro Botticelli (Painting Of The Week)

Zuzanna Stańska 12 February 2017 min Read

Valentines Day is coming. What else could we feature in our weekly series “Painting of the Week” if not a scene of Mars and Venus created by our legendary Botticelli?

Sandro Botticelli, Venus and Mars, c. 1485, National Gallery London
Sandro Botticelli, Venus and Mars, c. 1485, National Gallery London

This painting is not only about love. It’s about love conquering war. Good one for these disturbing times we’re living in.

Venus was the Goddess of Love. Mars was one of her numerous lovers – and he was the God of War. Here, he is asleep and unarmed, unaware of all the satyrs fooling around. Venus is awake and alert. She is focused and watching his lover, sleeping the ‘little death’ which comes after making love. Nothing can wake him up, even a trumpet in his ear. The little satyrs have stolen his lance – a joke to show that he is now disarmed.

You may ask why the painting has such weird dimensions. This work was probably a piece of bedroom furniture, perhaps a bedhead or piece of wainscoting, most probably the ‘spalliera’ or backboard from a chest or day bed. The wasps (‘vespe’ in Italian) at the top right suggest a link with the Vespucci family, though they may be no more than a symbol of the stings of love.

It is believed that the model for Venus was Simonetta Vespucci, the most beautiful woman of her time. Botticelli had painted her also in two of his other masterpieces, namely, Primavera and Birth of Venus. You can read more about Simonetta, in our past article Simonetta Vespucci – The Top Model of Renaissance.

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