Venus and Mars by Sandro Botticelli (c. 1483).
Art, whether a painting, a short story, a song or any of the amazing things that lie in between, has the power to move, transform, provoke questions and offer answers. Inundated as we are these days with such works of art I think it is rare for people to actually have a strong emotive let alone a transcendent response to a piece of art.
I don’t think looking properly at this painting for the first time stirred any revelations or miraculous epiphanies in me, it did however stir emotion.
I found humour in the antics of the chubby child satyrs as they played with Mar’s armour, the middle one at the back apparently looking back to see if ‘mummy is looking’.
Venus (not their actual mother) is not looking. Her gaze is fixed on her sleeping lover. Her face is, to me, the most fascinating and haunting part of this painting. I find I feel sorry for her and inspired by her at the same time without quite knowing why.
I imagine (and it is truly my imagination, another person might see something completely different in the painting) her thoughts to be a sardonic yet melancholy judgement of the man across from her and by extension herself. In the myths Venus was forced by her adoptive father Zeus to marry Mercury, she then had an affair with Mars.
No doubt knowing these myths have informed my reading of her face. I see a bitterness and sadness to Venus in this painting, but also a touch of humour to her mouth. She is aware of her situation at that moment and it both saddens her and amuses her. All of this Mars remains blissfully ignorant of, which no doubt also amuses her.
This is only one interpretation, an even in my head there are more. But the point is, that even one small section of a single painting can spark so much. I can’t stop wondering what it is she truly is thinking. Such questions lead to artworks of their own, perhaps I’ll write a short story of which this complex and fascinating Venus is the star.