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Events | La Primavera: Springtime in Florence

Springtime in Florence at Soho Farmhouse

La Primavera: Decoding a Masterpiece

  • Location: 1 Tracey Farm Cottages, Great Tew, Chipping Norton OX7 4JS
  • Date: 25.05.18 | 7:00pm
  • Book Now: This is a members only event unless a guest of Nick Nelson at Arcadia Education
  • Contact: email Eddie Sercombe for further details: eddie.sercombe@sohohouse.com
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We celebrate the arrival of Spring at Soho Farmhouse by decoding the seminal masterpiece by Sandro Botticelli, ‘La Primavera.’ With its tapestry-like carpet of flowers, the painting celebrates marriage in springtime Florence. Ovid’s calendar poem Fasti, which celebrates the ‘Floralia’ or festival of Flora serves as the primary basis, yet underlying this is an arranged marriage promoting political power within the Medician dynasty. Botticelli’s Renaissance masterpiece was aimed at the Florentine intelligentsia with their scholarly knowledge of Humanism – hence our need to decipher its abundant iconography!

When the artist had returned from Rome 1482, he embarked upon a series of large-scale secular Mythological works. La Primavera is based upon a nuptial theme and in particular, the wedding of 1482 of Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de Medici to Semiramide Appiano. The narrative painting is episodic and suitably in the manner of a cassone scene, and hung in an anteroom off Lorenzo’s bedchamber in the Villa Castello, Florence. The complex semiotics appealed to the Neo-Platonists within the Medici Court at the time, and may have been inspired by ‘Rusticus,’ a poem celebrating country life by Poliziano, a close friend of the Medici family. In the fifth book of Ovid’s Fasti, the wood nymph Chloris’s naked charms attracted the first wind of Spring, Zephyr (the son of Aurora, Dawn). Zephyr pursued her and as she was ravished, flowers sprang from her mouth and she became transformed into Flora. Whilst Venus presides over this garden of love and eternal springtime, the diaphanous Three Graces dance in a roundelay. Mercury the Messenger God uses his Caduceus to spurn the ominous rainclouds above, yet is he here on official business? Maybe to announce the news of the imminent wedding or of an expectant mother? Some historians read the work as a secular Annunciation scene with a (secular) Madonna in the centre. Certainly the work provides multifarious interpretations, with Venus possibly representing earthly paradise, Mercury astrologically evokes the planetary body of the heavens and Zephyr carnal desire. Notice too the suggestion of the Trimester within the female forms of Chloris, Flora and Venus. There are three sets of wings and three weddings, to boot! In fact each figure is allegorically representative of the Italian Papal States: Venus as Venice, Cupid is Amor (Roma backwards), Flora is Florence, the Graces represent Pisa, Naples and Genoa respectively; the nymph Maya is said to be Mantua, Zephyr (or Boreas) is Bolzano and Mercury Milan (alluded to via the snakes on his staff – a symbol of Sforza, city’s ducal rulers). An inventory of Villa Castello was discovered in 1992, and proved to be a real ground-breaker in decoding this masterpiece. Most significantly, another Botticelli painting entitled Pallas and the Centaur hung adjacent to La Primavera, and thus a continuous narrative can be established across both paintings!