Object 2: The Birth of Venus painting, Botticelli

May 27, 2021


The Birth of Venus, painted by Italian artist Botticelli in the 1480s illustrates the goddess Venus, arriving at shore after birth. Given it was painted over 500 years ago the artist’s intended meaning is not known, leading to several distinct interpretations. This introduces the discussion of the challenges that arise when these different interpretations are disseminated and communicated to others.

A number of interpretations have been suggested from a variety of experts by identifying ideas and symbols embedded within the painting. For example, the Greek poet Hesiod, said Venus was born out of sea foam and traveled to shore on a shell, pushed along by the breath of Zephyrus, the god of the west wind. His interpretation is focused on the mythological and magical beauty of this painting. However, others interpret it differently. For example, some Christians noticed that the Latin title for the Virgin Mary, stella maris, translates to star of the sea. This mirrors the story of the painting because Venus is born of the sea, just like Jesus Christ is born from Mary. These views introduce the possibility for endless, inconsistent interpretations and subsequently highlight the lack of control we have over the subjective interpretations of artworks.

A secondary question arises as to whether inconsistent interpretations devalue the overall message of the artwork or diminish its impact. This painting is included in my exhibition to argue that the differences of opinion that arise from the dissemination and communication of knowledge can in fact add value to a piece of artwork. I believe that the reason some paintings are so historically significant is because of the rich identity they acquire from the diverse opinions they inspire from viewers of all different times and places. The Birth of Venus is just one example in art that demonstrates the advantages when knowledge is so widely communicated and disseminated.

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