Botticelli's Primavera begs for meaning. It is a complex, large-scale masterpiece with apparent contradictions in mood, movement, theme and context. The direct gaze of its central figure instructs the viewer to look carefully, as does Botticelli's precise hand. Every deliberate petal, every careful pattern, every pointed glance drips with significance. The trick, then, is to define that sense of significance and transform it from silent colors on a piece of tempera into a coherent body of words, hopefully coming to summation in a single idea as exquisite as the dance of the three figures in the left side of the painting. Countless scholars have attempted to find a cohesive interpretation of the Primavera using what historical sources are available including letters, political events, philosophy, celebrations and countless other hypothetical treasure maps to the Primavera's meaning.
[...] Venus is also the bride and the setting for the Primavera is Venus' Garden of Love. D'Ancona bases this and the rest of her interpretation on the idea that the underlying program for the Primavera comes from Ovid's Fasti (The right side of the painting) and Politian's Stanze (the left side). However, her identification of Venus as the bride is limited to the symbol of a bride; d'Ancona holds the idea that, given the political unrest within the Medici sphere of power, the painting was actually commissioned and begun as a gift for Guiliano d'Medici, who was killed before the painting could be completed. [...]
[...] He holds that the female values of Semiramis are ideal for the future wife of a d'Medici and that while her iconography is limited there is enough visual evidence to connect the central figure in the Primavera with Semiramis in a thematically relevant way. Given the wildly divergent contexts from which each of these scholars postulate, it is no surprise that their discussion of the Primavera's iconographical program varies in terms of its scope, its breadth and the conclusions it reaches for each part of this large and complex painting. [...]
[...] To return to the beginning of this paper in yet another circular dance, the Primavera begs meaning. But that does not guarantee that there is an actual true reading of the painting. Granted, knowing the original recipient of the painting would put it into a context more in line with its original but that does not mean that this underlying text, a perfect reading to account for every minute detail, even exists. Ambiguity in paintings breeds discussion, introspection and an examination of the ideas and symbolisms invoked. [...]
[...] The central figure in the Primavera has been admitted by all three of these scholars to hold a sort of interpretive key to the overall painting. She holds the viewer's attention with her gaze and in the whirling storm of movement around her she is still. In the prodigious ambiguity of the painting, she is queen. It follows that interpretation of her presence in the painting will direct the interpretation of the whole and each of these scholars interprets her according to different ideas and precepts. [...]
[...] The setting of the Primavera is, in each of these interpretations, closely associated with the central figure more than any other. The deep, plentiful foliage with its sense of enclosure and bounty of fruit and flower gives the disparate group of figures unity and compositional stability. All interpretations place emphasis on the fertility of the garden, although each uses it to underscore different interpretations of the fact. Dempsey calls it the garden of love as well as paradise, created by the very presence of Love herself. [...]
Online readingwith our online reader
Content validatedby our reading committee