Jan 12, 2018 in Description

Renaissance Paintings

Both Botticelli's The Birth of Venus and Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam belong to the period of Renaissance and represent Italian school of painting. Being famous pieces of art for centuries, they share some similar traits, yet differences cannot be unnoticed either. As both works are two-dimensional, they use all means of expression that are typical for painting, such as color, composition, light and shade, and texture. It should be noted that the media used for the two works are different because of their initial purpose and placement.

The Birth of Venus was painted on canvas of rather large size, and measures approximately 170 cm to 280 cm. The reason why the artist chose such scale for his work was because of subject matter, which required space and had to create the impression of grandness. Tempera was used to create color palette of the painting, which reflects the artist's idea. Because a goddess is depicted, he chose soft and tender colors, which are almost transparent. This lucidness reveals the immaterial nature of the pictured woman, which rather reflects an ideal of the epoch than a real personality. This is why there is no anatomical probability, which is not necessary, and feminine traits are exaggerated. In terms of composition, Venus is the center character of the painting, while others are also important to emphasize her beauty and luxury.

In contrast, Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam is not an individual painting but a fresco in a larger set of the church; this is why its purpose and used media are initially different. It is about two times as large as Botticelli's painting, and is placed on the ceiling of Sistine Chapel in Vatican. While Venus is the center of composition, it is not the case with Michelangelo's fresco because God and Adam are equally important figures. Thus, it is natural that they are placed diagonally with their fingers about to touch in the center, which are emphasized as the most significant detail. It should be noted that the palette is similar to Botticelli's with soft and lucid colors used, yet the colors are still not so bright. While the first work focuses on femininity, the second one portrays masculinity, for which a more anatomical approach is used. Venus is a more fragile one, while both God creator and Adam have clearly painted muscles despite the divine subject matter.

Speaking about the subject matter of each work in detail, it should be noted that both of them are mythological. While Venus is a goddess of the Roman pantheon, Michelangelo devotes his fresco to Christian philosophy. Both works are representational as they depict human-like characters and events around them, yet they are full of symbolism. In Botticelli's painting a myth of Venus who gets born from the sea is depicted. Her nakedness in contrast to her companions emphasizes the idea that she is a new born and clean. She is surrounded by gods and gracias, who accompany and celebrate the event. Zephyrus, a god of western wind, and his spouse, help her reach the shore.

In the same way, Adam on the fresco is naked, because he has just been created by God. The connection between God and a man is presented as very subtle because they do not physically touch. Yet, their fingers are very close and are placed in the center to underline the significance of this spiritual connection. The plot is taken from the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament, which covers the events of creation of the Universe and humanity. Because of Renaissance's anthropocentrism, man is depicted as almost God-like, at least on the same scale, in contrast to medieval art, where a human is inferior.

According to the previously discussed subject matter, symbolism is an important aspect for the content of the two paintings. Speaking of Botticelli's work, it is but natural that mythology presupposes that the depicted characters are originally symbolic. Thus, for instance, Venus is not only a mythological goddess of beauty and love but also she is reflective of the idea of female ideal that the epoch had. Her physical appearance, feminine forms, blonde wavy hair suggests that beauty was a value that was significant for Renaissance epoch. In a sense, despite interest in spirit, material aspect of the world is no less important. The cult of body, although spiritualized, is a return to traditions of antiquity. Hence, even for Michelangelo's Creation of Adam, biblical content is not an obstacle to making bodies painted in an attractive way. Moreover, physical perfection is also a sign of spiritual perfection, and a way, in which a message of the artist is conveyed in both cases. Speaking of messages, it should be noted that the sublime is the key interest to painters as well as the miracle of creation. Both paintings reveal the creative potential that love and beauty have, and their divine nature.

In conclusion, it should be pointed out that the two paintings are similar for their belonging to Italian Renaissance and their interest in the mythology and the theme of creation. Yet, there are many differences as well: while Botticelli used tempera on canvas, Michelangelo painted a fresco, which is a totally different technique. Besides, Botticelli uses a brighter palette and less anatomical approach to painting bodies.

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