Excellent if expensive for what it is, exhibition at the V&A.
As the title suggests, here you are bamboozled at first entry by a number of modern interpretations of Sandro Botticelli’s 1480s ‘The Birth of Venus’, from Monty Python to Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman to Rossetti, Byrne-Jones and even William Morris. All using Botticelli’s nude Venus icon to stimulate their own imagination and almost emulation of style and stare. With many of the works on display: interesting but best to leave in the imagination.
The exhibition is good to wander through, to question ‘why copy?’ ‘what’s so magical about his Venus?’, ‘what’s the symbolism, the meanings behind the component parts and figures?’ It’s also enjoyable to ask oneself ‘the 1480s! Such an early time for such a work, the beginnings of the Renaissance, the exploitation of colour and light, the painter’s location – Florence and his patrons – the Medici family, without whom substantial influences on art and the humanistic movement would not have happened.
In the final gallery of Botticelli and his contemporaries, I particularly enjoyed standing back from all the works and canvasses so not to be tempted to look at the labels and ask myself ‘if I could, what masterpiece would I take home?’ My eyes settled unhesitatingly on what turned out to be Botticelli’s ‘Chigi Madonna’ (1470). Here we have warmth and humanity, realism yet with deification, pure colours and solid structure and unlike may Renaissance works, we feel we are participating in the scene, invited in. It’s been painted for us and our devotions whatever form they may take.
Visitors were not allowed to take photographs, so here’s a link to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston where the work is held: Chigi at Boston