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Venus and Mars

Photo credit: The National Gallery, London

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Venus, the goddess of love, looks over at her lover Mars. She is alert and dignified, while he – the god of war – is utterly lost in sleep. He doesn‘t even notice the chubby satyr (half child, half goat) blowing a conch shell in his ear.

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.

The National Gallery, London

London

Title

Venus and Mars

Date

about 1485

Medium

Tempera and oil on poplar

Measurements

H 69.2 x W 173.4 cm

Accession number

NG915

Acquisition method

Bought, 1874

Work type

Painting

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Normally on display at

The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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