When I saw the advertisement on the side of a city bus, I went online and purchased my ticket straight away. I’m going next week. Where? To the Jacquemart-André museum to see the new BOTTICELLI show.
In December 2003 I went to Florence over Christmas (on a night train from Paris). The weather was gorgeous – cold and sunny – and there were very few tourists. I felt like I had the whole beautiful city to myself. Well, me and the Italians, or rather, the Florentines. One day I went to the famous Uffizi Gallery and climbed a massive stone staircase to the Botticelli Room. To my surprise, I found myself entirely alone in that room. Imagine standing three feet away from this masterpiece. I was transfixed. It was a magical moment.
Florentine artist Sandro Botticelli is credited for his contributions to the Italian Renaissance. Widely considered to be one of the most prolific painters of the 15th century, he’s known for his large-scale paintings of mythological subject matter, including Primavera, an allegorical celebration of spring.
This piece is one of the most important Early Renaissance works. Housed in Florence’s famed Uffizi Gallery, it continues to attract viewers with its classical symbolism, elaborate composition, and delicate attention to detail.
Botticelli painted Primavera around 1480 (1480!! That’s 523 years before I stood gazing at it in 2003!) after returning to Florence from Rome, where he was hired to create frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. During this time, he began to turn his attention away Roman Catholic iconography and towards scenes from Greek and Roman mythology.
I then moved on to his next masterpiece: The Birth of Venus.
Created in the late 15th century, this monumental painting has been admired and analyzed for centuries. Today, along with famous pieces like Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, it is regarded as a key work of the Italian Renaissance.
The Birth of Venus shows the recently-born Venus, the Roman goddess associated with love and beauty. Standing nude in an enlarged scallop shell, she is flanked by three figures from Classical mythology: Zephyr, the god of wind; Chloris, Zephyr’s wife and a nymph associated with flowers; and Flora, the Greek goddess of spring. Together, Zephyr and Chloris push Venus toward the shore with their breath, while Flora waits to cover her with a cloak.
I remember feeling so moved by the sheer greatness of the artwork that surrounded me in that empty room, that I wept, so overcome with emotion I was.
I must return to Florence, I haven’t been back since 2003.
My friend, Lori, who lives in California sent me a comment saying I had experienced “Stendhal syndrome”. Huh? What’s that? I googled it.
Stendhal syndrome or Florence syndrome is a psychosomatic condition involving rapid heartbeat, fainting and confusion, allegedly occurring when individuals become exposed to objects, artworks, or phenomena of great beauty and antiquity.
Yup. That’s what happened to me.
Read this article below in The Guardian about a man who suffered a heart attack after looking at Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus!