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This picture was probably ordered to celebrate a marriage, and the unusual shape suggests it was a spalliera, a panel set into the wall of a room. These panels were ordered to decorate the semi-public reception room known as a camera (a sort of bedchamber).
Botticelli’s picture is colourful and amusing but was also very fashionable – the cultures of Ancient Greece and Rome were admired by the elite in Renaissance Florence. Mars’ well-defined body refers deliberately to ancient sculptures. It might have had another function: women gazing upon beautiful male bodies were thought to be more likely to give birth to boys, essential for continuing the family line.
Venus and Mars
Tempera and oil on poplar
H 69.2 x W 173.4 cm