Sandro Botticelli, Venus and Mars, 1483
tempera on panel, 27” x 68” (69×173 cm), National Gallery, London
Harvey Rachlin has a witty appreciation of Botticelli’s Venus and Mars in the Pursuits edition of the Journal.
Venus gazes at a sleeping Mars after a romantic interlude. She is draped in a flowing white gown, her curly locks cascading gently over her delicate bosom, her body resting casually against a soft apricot-colored pillow. The goddess of love reigns supreme; she has subdued the god of war. Grinning satyrs play impishly with the spoils of conquest. One has donned the war god’s helmet, wrapping his arms around the handle of the god’s mighty spear; another glances back at Venus to gauge her reaction to the sport; a third mischievously puffs a deafening blast through a large conch into the insensible god’s ear; and the fourth, at the bottom, has crawled saucily into the warrior’s discarded armor. Mars slumbers deeply in the sylvan glade—surrendered of heart, depleted of strength, his magnificent masculinity subjugated by the power of love.
Botticelli’s lighthearted scene evokes the perennial tug of war between men and women in a manner that brings to mind a modern sitcom. Mars, his physical needs gratified, wants simply to sleep; Venus, still wide awake, yearns for tender conversation, for some indication that his interest in her is more than sexual. Her ambivalent expression reflects a mixture of fulfillment and wistfulness—along with just a touch, perhaps, of smug satisfaction that her charms have reduced the fearsome god of war to a lump of inert, snoring flesh.
Read the whole thing.