With life on lockdown, it’s going to be a while before I can start going to exhibitions again. Until then, have a new series ‘Revisited’ where I relive some of my favourite past exhibitions. Up first in the series is ‘Botticelli Reimagined’ which ran at the V&A from 5th March-3rd July 2016 and this is my original post of this incredible display.
One of the most celebrated artists in history, Sandro Botticelli, is an infamous name that immediately brings to mind two of the most famous paintings ever created; the ‘Primavera’ and ‘The Birth Of Venus’. This Florentine Renaissance artist is now the subject of a major exhibition at the V&A which explores how Botticelli has influenced the world of art, business, fashion and manufacturing five hundred years after his death in 1510.
From the Pre-Raphaelites to Lady GaGa, Botticelli’s artworks have been interpreted and reborn in many guises and are shown in 150 works assembled from around the world. The frequent revival of features from Botticelli paintings is wholly fitting for an artist who underwent a rebirth of his own.
Whilst his contemporaries such as Leonardo DaVinci and Raphael remained celebrated artists from their day to ours, Botticelli was forgotten after his death. A change in the creative culture of Florence greatly affected Botticelli who subsequently fell into obscurity until he was rediscovered and reborn by the Pre-Raphaelites over two hundred years later and continues to permeate modern culture to this day. Who could forget Ursula Andress, in one of the most famous moments in cinema history, emerging from the sea clutching seashells in Bond film Dr.No?
The exhibition is divided into three sections which depict the different stages of Botticelli’s journey. Going back through time, it begins with the present day interpretations of the Renaissance artworks and how they hold relevance in today’s world of celebrity. The second phase of the exhibition showcases the rediscovery of Botticelli in the nineteenth century before concluding in the third and final stage which displays a vast collection of paintings and drawings by Botticelli.
Arguably the most recognisable painting after the ‘Mona Lisa’ by DaVinci, ‘The Birth Of Venus’ is parodied over and over again across a broad range of media including film, fashion and music. The artist Yin Xin recreated Venus with Asian facial features. The reference to an iconic painting of western art fused with the portrayal of an Asian figure demonstrates how the perception of an artwork can be determined by the culture that produced it. This is not unlike the ‘canons’ of art whereby an artwork of undisputed quality will differ depending on where it was produced. I.e. what a western audience considers an artwork of high quality to be will be different compared to an Asian or Oriental audience.
The world of photography has also used direct quotes from Botticelli’s Venus. LaChapelle’s ‘Rebirth Of Venus’ in 2009 without question alludes to the Renaissance original from 1486. Whilst the female figures in both pieces are nude, LaChapelle’s model is more unashamed than Venus. Gone is the pensive expression that hints at an inward reflection, replaced by a glazed and empty stare away from the camera. LaChapelle’s Venus makes no attempt to hide her modesty and the cover is supplied by a male model holding a strategically placed shell that has phallic connotations. The over the top sexuality of the photo is a reflection of the sexualised modern day culture and the emptiness that is projected from it.
Although ‘The Birth Of Venus’ and the ‘Primavera’ will never leave the Ufizzi Gallery in Florence, on display in the exhibition is in my opinion the next best thing. ‘Venus’ painted in 1490 by Botticelli offers the most tantalising sample of the iconic ‘Birth Of Venus’ painted only a few years previously. She has a luminous quality that radiates from the panel upon which she is painted, her hair a golden waterfall sparkles and captivates whilst her eyes and expression fixate and hold your gaze. She is portrayed standing alone with the background of the original removed. It is somewhat ironic that this element of ‘The Birth Of Venus’ that Botticelli painted, became the most reproduced element of his art that continues to cast its spell into the twenty first century.