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Sandro Botticelli, Venus and Mars

Key facts
Full title Venus and Mars
Artist Sandro Botticelli
Artist dates about 1445 - 1510
Date made about 1485
Medium and support Tempera and oil on poplar
Dimensions 69.2 × 173.4 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1874
Inventory number NG915
Location Gallery D
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Venus and Mars
Sandro Botticelli

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.

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