The title for this piece comes from the V&A magazine’s article about their new blockbuster show “Botticelli Reimagined”. It is referencing James Bond and the scene in Dr No where Ursuala Andress emerges from the sea like a modern day Venus clutching her conch shells.
Poster in the underground tunnel from Kensington South tube station to the V&A
This new show opened a couple of weeks ago and I have read a couple of reviews about it, mostly positive. As a closet Renaissance Art fan I felt that it would be an interesting show to see, especially as there are Actual Botticelli’s on view. I say ‘actual Botticelli’s’ because as I discovered today, many paintings which were thought to be by the Master are in fact now generally agreed to have been painted by followers or a combination of the two. It seems hard to believe that mistakes like that could be made, but Botticelli fell from favour in his latter years after critical attacks about his work by the puritanical religious zealot Girolamo Savonarola.
I think one of the reasons I like Botticelli so much is his style of painting, which is quite stylized and very flat, it has I think, quite a modern aesthetic particularly when you remember that he died in 1510. His subject matter of Madonnas and beautiful women as allegorical figures are pleasing to the eye while at the same time, his work tells important stories such as in my favourite painting – Primavera. This is a tale from the 5th book of Ovid’s ‘Fasti’ in which the naked wood nymph Chloris attarcts the attention of the March wind, Zephyrus who kidnaps her. As he ravishes her flowers spring from her mouth and she becomes transformed in to Flora, Goddess of Flowers and Spring, the eternal bearer of life.
Greetings card showing Botticelli’s “Primavera”
The painting reads from right to left with the Zephyr and Floris/Chloris activity seen to the right. The central figure is Venus representing humanity and distinguishing material values on the right, from spiritual values on the left. Above her is a small winged and blindfolded Cherub or ‘Putto’, most likely Cupid, his arrow ready to fire toward the 3 Graces. Moving left are the 3 Graces (depicting charm, beauty and creativity) and at the far left stands Mercury his hand held aloft to dissipate (storm) clouds thus keeping the garden safe. There are many interpretations of this painting and it’s origins, but whatever the real truth may be, it remains one of the most remarkable paintings ever. (Primavera is housed permanently in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.)
The V&A exhibition shows how Botticelli has influenced artists through the centuries and unusually starts with the modern day. On entering the visitor is greeted by a large screen showing the scene from Dr No with Ursuala Andress (see above) followed by a scene from the film by Terry Gilliam “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen” where a naked Uma Thurman appears from a shell as Venus. A direct reference to Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus. In fact, it is the painting (not at the exhibition) The Birth of Venus which forms the main inspiration for most artists through the years. There are (seemingly) endless reworkings by artists such as Andy Warhol (see the advertising poster image above), Jeff Koons and a very odd reconstruction of the painting with Venus as a hermaphrodite that make this exhibitions title a little misleading. It is more of an appropriation and reworking of Botticelli rather than a reimagining. I must confess to being somewhat disappointed at the lack of originality from some very high profile artists when referencing Botticelli. However, I did smile at the piece by Japanese artist Tomoko Nagao and his recreation of the Birth of Venus (with Baci, Esselungo, Barilla, PSP and Easy Jet) bringing it very much into the 21st century with it’s obvious references to popular culture and consumerism.
The Birth of Venus with Baci, Esselungo, Barilla, PAP and Easy Jet by Tomoko Nagao (from V&A magazine – reproduced without permission, but hopefully OK as it is a great picture)
The middle of the show is dedicated mainly to the Pre Rapaelites and their associates and I don’t need to explain how Botticelli influenced them as it is obvious in almost every one of their paintings.
Finally the last rooms are the works of the Master himself, or at least some are by him, others are now thought to be by the School of… There is nothing quite like getting up close and personal with an actual Botticelli, to see how the paint has retained much of it’s original vibrancy, the almost invisible brushstrokes and to study first hand the strange, stylized figures which seem so modern for paintings which are over 500 years old.
Souvenir mirror depicting Venus by Sandro Botticelli and workshop about 1445 -1510
I am not sure that this exhibition will appeal to a huge audience despite the inclusion of and Andy Warhol print. I enjoyed it because of Botticelli and also the Pre Raphaelite connection. There are a couple of more imaginative interpretations of Botticelli, one by Bill Viola where a film of people walking through a forest loops endlessly and some stills of the very peculiar French artist Orlan undergoing one of her plastic surgery performance pieces, but both these pieces were marred somewhat by the wailing of a Bob Dylan soundtrack that accompanies another piece, I forget who it was by because Bob was annoying me so much!
Botticelli Reimagined is on at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Kensington until 3rd July 2016.