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Did Women Have A Renaissance?

La Primavera, also known as an Allegory of the Spring, is one of the most controversial paintings done by renowned renaissance artist, Sandro Botticelli. A question I had when analyzing this painting was: did women have a renaissance? The themes in La Primavera differed from other Renaissance artworks because of its allusions to mythology and lack of religious undertones. Instead of representing religious messages, like most Renaissance artists, Sandro Botticelli represents an intellectual world. La Primavera was painted approximately in 1482, possibly as a wedding gift for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici, although the themes presented in this painting are questionable for a wedding gift. Despite the darkness and ambiguity of the painting, the overall theme of the painting is supposed to be one of love and marriage represented through the male gaze, an ideal reality, however, La Primavera shows that women’s portrayal in the renaissance is all about male fantasy and male desire.

In La Primavera, the Three Graces, dancing on the left frame, are dressed in transparent dresses. Through their dresses we can see their naked bodies and also the scenery behind them. The Three Graces are being targeted by cupid’s arrow, which reinforces the idea of marriage. The Three Graces themselves also exemplify romance as they are considered a companion of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. The Three Graces represent beauty, chastity, and youth. Their connected hands implies that women, especially brides, were supposed to exemplify these three characteristics to be seen as beautiful and worthy. Chloris, another figure within the painting, is also cloaked in a transparent dress. Chloris’s transparent attire could symbolize lust and sexuality. The use of transparent attire could allude to marriage and what is expected of a woman on her wedding night, implying that a woman’s sexual behaviors are transparent, because she is a virgin who will have sex with her husband.

Most scholars agree on the fact that Zephyrus “ravishes” Chloris, which is a romanticized way of showing Zephyrus raping Chloris.[1] However, Zephyrus soon feels remorse for his actions and takes Chloris as his wife. Botticelli vividly projects the fear on Chloris’s face as she tries to get away from Zephyrus. Chloris is then transformed into Flora, who is radiant and full of flowers, a symbol of good fertility.The Three Graces also allude to marriage and what is expected of a woman in an ideal marriage: chastity, beauty, and love. Women are portrayed in very flattering terms, even though Chloris was raped, she is still beautiful in her sadness. This is unrealistic. There is no sympathy for women because of the subjective notions about women in the judeo-christian paradigm. Chloris was raped but she’s still expected to perform her womanly duty and forgive her rapist and marry him. While it is expressed that what Zephyrus did to Chloris is bad, she is expected to forgive him because he is still willing to marry her and her forgiveness transforms her into a thing of beauty, representing male power, control, and violence towards women.

La Primavera is an artwork that was very different from typical renaissance art. However, due to the changing cultural atmosphere surrounding the Medici court, the painting fits in with the humanist discourse of the time, and depicts how contemporary women were expected to behave. Although the overall meaning of the painting is unclear, a common theme that can be recognized is love and marriage. It can be inferred that Botticelli painted La Primavera with the intention of using mythology to enhance the ideals of marriage. This characterization of Botticelli’s technique in La Primavera shows how he aimed to show marriage as a lovely and beautiful thing. Many scholars disagree on what exactly Botticelli was trying to express in La Primavera, however, I believe that his main goal was to represent fertility and marriage in 15th century Europe. The use of cupid pointing an arrow at the Three Graces, who represent pure and chaste women, is only one of the symbols of marriage. Another symbol of marriage were the figures of Chloris, Zephyrus, and Flora. Chloris’s transition into Flora could represent how marriage could transform a woman into a beautiful goddess.Venus, standing beautiful at the center of the painting, is significant because her locality shows how men overtly sexualized and romanized women, and how marriage was seen as the center of a woman’s life. In La Primavera, Botticelli did not aim for realistic representations. Instead he used abstract and ideal lines to represent a utopian and mythological world. [2]

After analyzing this painting, I came to the conclusion that women did not have a renaissance because they are represented through a male gaze, which is restrictive and not representative of who they really are. Women need to be under the male gaze because they can’t be trusted because they are going to seduce men like Eve did. We can ascertain this by looking at the pictures that are painted of women during the renaissance to see that women are always painted under the male gaze, meaning they are painted for the benefit of men: women are portrayed as aesthetically pleasing for men. They are created for men and by men, showing the patriarchal society of the renaissance because women, like the raped Chloris, are represented through the male filter. Women are represented under the male gaze because they are sexualized and objectified, appearing in the way men expect them to and even a story about rape and forced marriage turns into a beautiful painting about love and marriage.

[1]Serguisz Michalski, "Venus as Semiramis: A New Interpretation of the Central Figure of Botticelli's "Primavera, " 213-222.

[2] Foster and Pamela Tudor-Craig, The Secret Life of Paintings, Boydell Press: Woodbridge, 1986, 54-57.

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