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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 On loan: National Treasures, The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, UK
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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