Propped up on a pink cushion, this young, fair-haired woman – the ideal of beauty in Renaissance Florence – gazes directly at us. She seems oblivious to the three chubby little boys around her, clutching at handfuls of pink roses.
This idealised beauty may represent fertility, with which the pomegranate – tucked under her arm – containing many seeds was often associated. The picture’s long horizontal format, the reclining blonde in a white dress and playful children recall Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, also in the National Gallery’s collection.
We do not know who the artist was, but the picture may be based on Venus and Mars. Like that painting, it may have been placed in the room of a newly wed Florentine couple in order to encourage fertility and, therefore, the birth of many children to carry on the family name.
Propped up on a pink cushion, a young, fair-haired woman – the ideal of beauty in Renaissance Florence – gazes directly at us. Her hair rests in springy waves on her shoulders, and her loose white robe is gathered beneath her breasts and falls in rippling folds over her legs, revealing their form. It is probably intended to recall the chiton or tunic worn by the sculpted goddesses of classical antiquity.
She seems oblivious to the three chubby little boys playing around her, all clutching at handfuls of pink roses which come from a basket at her feet. One, beneath her arm, holds a bunch of black grapes while scattering his flowers on the cushion. A pomegranate tucked beneath her arm is partly cracked to reveal its seeds. The fruit, the flowers and her idealised beauty suggest the woman may represent fertility, which the pomegranate with its many seeds was often associated. The long horizontal format of the painting, as well as the classically clothed reclining blonde and the playful children, recalls Botticelli’s Venus and Mars.
The picture was in fact purchased as a Botticelli from the same London sale as Venus and Mars in 1874, when Botticelli was hugely popular with English collectors. The German art historian Waagen thought it was ‘one of the most remarkable of Sandro Botticelli’s mythological pictures. The forms are grand in conception, though the head, hands, and feet of the goddess show that they were taken from a living model.’ It was the more expensive and famous of the two pictures, which seems strange today, when Venus and Mars is recognised as one of Botticelli’s masterpieces. At the turn of the twentieth century the picture was connected with another Florentine painter called Jacopo del Sellaio, but this idea did not last for long.
We do not actually know who the artist was, but the picture may be based on Venus and Mars. Like that painting, it may have been placed in the room of a newly wed Florentine couple in order to encourage fertility and, therefore, the birth of many children to carry on the family name.
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