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15 Things You Should Know About The Birth Of Venus

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Completed in 1486, Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus has become one of the most heralded works of the Renaissance and a lasting symbol of feminine grace and beauty. Yet there's much more to this radiant work than you might imagine. 

1. The Birth of Venus depicts several gods.

Venus, goddess of love, stands demurely on the seashell, being blown to shore by Zephyr, god of the west wind. There, one of the Horae, goddesses of the seasons, is ready with a cape to clothe the newborn deity. 

The fourth figure carried by Zephyr is meant to be either an Aura (nymphs of the wind) or Chloris, a nymph associated with spring and blossoming flowers like those flowing through the picture. 

2. It MAY CONTAIN VERY SUBTLE hidden genitalia.

And no, we don't mean what lies beneath Venus's carefully placed palm. The shell she stands on may be meant to represent female genitalia, which creates a birthing scene that reflects Venus's oceanic origins while connecting symbolically to human birth.   

3. Venus's nudity was groundbreaking. 

Christian inspiration was dominant in the art of the Middle Ages, so nudity was rarely portrayed. However, the emergence of humanism led to a renewed interest in the myths of ancient Rome, and with it a resurrection of nudes. 

4. It's an early WORK ON CANVAS.

During this period of the Early Renaissance, painting on wood panels was all the rage. But canvas' popularity was on the rise, especially in humid regions where wood tended to warp. Since canvas was cheaper than wood, its perceived status was a bit lower, so it was reserved for works that weren't intended for grand public displays. The painting stands out as the first work on canvas in Tuscany

5. The Birth of Venus was meant to hang in a bedroom. 

The piece's nudity takes on a more sensual tone when you know it was meant to hang over a marital bed. This locale and its daring depiction contributed to The Birth of Venus being hidden from public viewing for roughly 50 years. 

6. The Birth of Venus has a companion piece. 

Though it was completed four years before its sister, La Primavera can be viewed as a sort of sequel to The Birth of Venus. While the latter depicts Venus's arrival in a world on the verge of blooming, the former shows the world in bloom around the now-clothed maternal figure. It's said the pair of paintings were meant to communicate how "love triumphs over brutality."

7. It's bigger than you'd think.

The Birth of Venus measures in at roughly 6 feet by 9 feet. It's been called the "first large-scale canvas created in Renaissance Florence." 

8. The Birth of Venus survived the Bonfire of the Vanities. 

On February 7, 1497, Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola spurred Christians in Florence to erect a seven-story pyre to burn art and other baubles like mirrors, jewelry, dice and art that were believed to promote sin. Some historical reports claim Botticelli was one of these followers and threw a few of his own works on the fire. But The Birth of Venus was spared the flames.

9. Its varnish BEGAN to obscure the painting. 

Over centuries, coats of varnish meant to preserve the painting began to turn opaque, shielding some of Botticelli's details and colors from view. But a careful restoration that concluded in 1987 gently stripped this layer away, revealing the soft and pearly colors the artist intended.

10. Botticelli pulled Venus's pose from ancient art.

The goddess’ modest gesture to cover her private parts is one favored in the Capitoline Venus, a category of statue that specifically depicts Venus in just this way. The first of these works is believed to date back to the second or third century BCE.

11. It may have been meant to replace a lost masterpiece. 

Some sources believe The Birth of Venus was modeled after the long lost Venus Anadyomene, a painting by ancient Greek artist Apelles that was once described by Roman author Pliny the Elder and known only through his written account. 

12. The Birth of Venus may have been inspired by a poem.

Other theories posit that this particular scene was based on a Homeric hymn published in Florence by Demetrios Chalkokondyles that reads:

"Of august gold-wreathed and beautiful
Aphrodite I shall sing to whose domain
belong the battlements of all sea-loved
Cyprus where, blown by the moist breath
of Zephyros, she was carried over the
waves of the resounding sea on soft foam.
The gold-filleted Horae happily welcomed
her and clothed her with heavenly raiment."

But the more common interpretation is that its inspiration was a poem by Botticelli's friend Agnolo Poliziano.

13. It took The Birth of Venus centuries to find fame. 

During Botticelli’s life, his works were often overshadowed by the artists of the High Renaissance. But 400 years after The Birth of Venus’ completion, Botticellis began making their way into the collections of European museums. His pieces finally won esteem in the 19th century, with The Birth of Venus becoming his most revered work.

14. The Birth of Venus is a landmark of beauty. 

Beyond being a beloved example of Renaissance art, the painting has also become a marker by which other eras’ beauty norms are measured. Her pose has been co-opted by various modern models. And as recently as 2014, The Birth of Venus has been used as a tool to criticize modern beauty standards. 

15. Botticelli asked to be buried at the feet of his Venus. 

Not the painting, mind you. He wanted to lie eternally by its earthly inspiration, Simonetta Cattaneo de VespuccI. Called the most beautiful woman in Florence as well as the most beautiful woman of the Renaissance, Simonetta was the muse who inspired several of Botticelli’s works, including The Birth of Venus and La Primavera. When he died in 1510, Botticelli was put to rest near this married noblewoman, for whom it is speculated he harbored unrequited love.

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Art
5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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Dan Bell
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Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

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