Botticelli's Birth of Venus - the new art history

Friday 14 May 2021

...and Aphrodite is being crowned by Persuasion (Peitho)..."  

Pausanias:- Description of Greece 5.11.8  (1.) 
editing/formatting June 28, 2024

This essay will claim that the essential focus of the Birth of Venus is actually disclosed through an inconspicuous fold of cloth by which the artist symbolically describes the mons pubis & pudendal cleft of the goddess Venus. This vertically folded cloth visually mimics the mons & cleft in much the same way the conch shell had been used by the Italian Renaissance artist to reference the vulva (and by corollary; sex, love, desire, beauty, etc.). Botticelli's pagan inauguration of the vulva of Venus (and thereby all vulvae) presents the goddess Peitho standing on the shore ready to recieve Venus to confer an entralling,  beguiling power over the form of the vulva. Peitho's action actually sanctifies this primary area of female sexual differentiation as the crowning glory of the female. It is the mystery of beguilement and persuasion that is the focus & intention described by the fold being held aloft in the hand of Peitho. This is to say that Peitho invests the primary, generative matrix of the feminine with persuasive allure; of beguilement.
Venus rising from the sea is known as Venus Anadyomene. Now though, Botticelli's Venus Anadyomene has been crosschecked with the Venus Pudica pose. This pudica attitude is that of a demure awareness where a surprised Venus covers the pudenda with one hand and the breasts with the other; the young girl has become sexually aware (the nubile). Sexual allure is the abiding narrative. In Botticelli's representation, the narrative of form & force can be further deciphered when considering alterations made by Botticelli during the construction of The Birth of Venus.
The unifying religious ambitions of the influential Florentine philosopher Marsilio Ficino may be detected in the three leaves that emerge from that fold of cloth (the metaphoric vulva) held aloft by Peitho which appears to now reference the Christian Trinity. Marsilio Ficino's influential syncretism can be deciphered by carefully considering alterations made to the painting during its execution and which noted will confirm the artists intention to physically exaggerate the paintings fundamental meaningThrough those subtle alterations the paintings progression can be seen to gain confidence - which in turn bravely defines and articulates the gravity of the works final proposition/message within the courtly, erudite, and influential environment in which this painting was created. 
Botticelli's philosophical elaboration on the brief observation of Pausanius must obviously be read through the paintings connection as a wedding gift as well as its (assumed) site-specific placement above the couples marital bed, and to recall that during the Renaissance marriages among the upper classes were most often arranged to the mutual advantages of both families and not based upon notions of  infatuation or love. In the bed chamber the arranged couple might look upon this work and yield to the impulse of the Venus nature through pleasure, tradition, and duty. It is highly likely that both the narrative and the cultural development that drives Botticelli's image would have been revealed to the wedded couple to enjoy.  
As the painting displays a known cosmogonic myth (aka cosmological argument), and where that myth in particular relates to fertility, it might be considered quite appropriate to consider that the Birth of Venus may well have been located above the bed in the marital chamber; but this is neither certain nor critical 


The Birth of Venus alludes, in a courtly manner, to the sexual magic of the bedchamber. In this room the sensual, regenerative phenomena of forces natural are cloistered and sanctified by Venus. Here the husband makes the intimate discovery that the new wife does not merely participate in the gendered lineage of women, but through participation in the marriage ritual she is an acolyte of the goddess. Now, fully comprehending and accepting the matrilineal responsibility to the family and the community, the bride may soon assume the status her new role affords. It might also be drawn from Catullus's poem that cosmology was a component of the marriage celebration:


                            Swing your torches overhead                                                                                                                                                                                      boys, the glittering veil                                                                                                                                                                                                of the bride's in sight                                                                                                                                                                                                    make her blushing beauty rise...                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             The Poems of Catullus,                                                                                                                                                                                                 translated by Horace Gregory. p.155                                                 

The 'glittering veil of the Bride' implies the light of Venus shining across the waters... so as Venus rises above the horizon she appears to be 'born from the sea', therefore the epithalamium alludes to an invocation of Venus Anadyomene and the harnessing of forces physical, seasonal, and cosmological. This should be seen in a similar way that we today might percieve 'lunar planting' or 'bio-dynamics' - but applied to human generation. This is to say that the wedding rites were designed to be complicit with natures rounds and to imbue the couples fertility through harmonious interdependance with the cycles of increase observed in nature. Venus, perceived as a fecund influence both as deity and/or as planet, plays a central role in the expression of creative energy in myth and the long history of Italian culture. In the famous Epithalamium, Catullus speaks of the power of Venus to inspire passion and to sanctify the nuptial bed: 

                              Let the young man make the girl                
                              his wife now and forever
                              with the help of Venus
                              who presides omnipotent at this solemn union.                                 
                      ibid. p.162. 

Having passed through these rites she shall become one with the Great mother: Wife & Lover, Matrix & Athanor; through the marriage custom that culminates in her sexual initiation she becomes the archetypal embodiment of the goddess Venus. Catullus poem ends with the closing of the bedchamber doors:  

                             The doors are closed. Husband and wife are joined.                                                                                                                                             Their youthful love will breed                                                                                                                                                                                    a vigorous generation.

                          Ibid. p.163.


Again; their youthful love...'will breed a vigorous generation...'. suggests that these rites were not merely social and cultural, but were designed around natures cycles of increase with the intention to develop fine, robust offspring - the human exemplar of health & resilience. 


The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli is generally understood to have been a wedding commission made for Lorenzo di Pierfrancesco de’ Medici (1463-1503) second cousin to Lorenzo de' Medici (1449-1492) [also known as Lorenzo the Magnificent] and possibly to be hung above the younger Lorenzo's marital bed. 

As a wedding commission the paintings true conversation revolves around sex and the exaltation of the feminine. This inspired reworking of ancient creation mythology as intellectual subject matter sees the revival of cultural history - in this instance through the writings of Pausanius. The painting also reveals insight into the Florentine Renaissance and the predominant cultural and courtly influences of the period: note the subtlety of subject matter; the guardedness and discretion as well as the ingenuity when referencing primary sexual anatomy. Nevertheless it is the [metaphoric] vulva that is the paintings object matter; it is the central focus and point of departure for the paintings contemporary didactic flow while using references and imagery that could also be understood as belonging to classical mythology. 

In Botticelli's well recognised painting the young goddess Venus is actually about to receive the metaphoric sacralised form of the vulva from the goddess Peitho [aka persuasion] who  forever imbues the anatomical form of the goddess with the power of persuasion (as libidinous beguilement) and by so doing the vulva is henceforth revered as the crowning glory of the female sex. The act of conferring the power of persuasion to the vulva is portrayed by Botticelli as a theatrical event and accords with the observation made by Pausanias (c.110 –180 AD) in his 2nd century travelogue Descriptions of Greece. 

Fig 2. Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus (c.1484-86)Tempera on canvas.
172.5 cm × 278.9 cm (67.9 in × 109.6 in). 
Uffizi, Florence (Authors annotation)


In his travelogue, Pausanius notes many marvels of Ancient Greece and describes them all from direct observation. It is from this book where the central event portrayed by Botticelli can be sourced to a small section of text:
[Amongst the images decorating the throne of Zeus in the temple at Olympia :]     "...Eros (Love) receiving Aphrodite as she rises from the sea, and Aphrodite is being crowned by Persuasion (Peitho)..."  Pausanias Description of Greece 5.11.8  (1.)

While myth (as any story) must be presented through chronological sequence, mythic time is in fact more equitable with geologic time scales (eras, eons, etc.). Though not being fixed to any specific chronological sequence, creation myth is developed through intuition and imagination to create a seamless historical composite which may then be narrated through any of the various forms of myth. In the 
fourth century CE Sallust (or Platonis Sallustius) author of On the Gods and the World would write:

IV. That the species of myth are five, with examples of each.

"Of myths some are theological, some physical, some psychic, and again some material, and some mixed from these last two. The theological are those myths which use no bodily form but contemplate the very essences of the Gods: e.g. Kronos swallowing his children. Since God is intellectual, and all intellect returns into itself, this myth expresses in allegory the essence of God. 

Myths may be regarded physically when they express the activities of the Gods in the world: e.g. people before now have regarded Kronos as Time, and calling the divisions of Time his sons say that the sons are swallowed by the father. 

The psychic way is to regard the activities of the Soul itself: the Soul's acts of thought, though they pass on to other objects, nevertheless remain inside their begetters.

The material and last is that which the Egyptians have mostly used, owing to their ignorance, believing material objects actually to be Gods, and so calling them: e.g. they call the Earth Isis, moisture Osiris, heat Typhon, or again, water Kronos, the fruits of the earth Adonis, and wine Dionysus.          (MacQueen. Allegory, The Critical Idiom.p.15)

Sallust's text continues but we truncate for brevity:

"Theological myths suit philosophers, physical and psychic suit poets, mixed suit religious initiations, since every initiation aims at uniting us with the World and the Gods." (Ibid, p.16)

 But of these things let none make any mistake. Sallust states:

"Now these things never happened, but always are. And mind sees all things at once, but Reason (or Speech) expresses some first and other after. Thus, as the myth is in accord with the Cosmos, we for that reason keep a festival imitating the Cosmos, for how could we attain higher order?"          (Ibid. pp 16, 17.)     

And this is a fundamental reasoning behind the myth of the Birth of Venus. The myth means to elevate the relations between men and women; to sanctify the nuptial bed; to treat with respect and to dignify what might otherwise be disrespected as merely satiating the animal passions. Through myth, Sallust's 'higher order' is attained by sacralising cultural responsibilities and hallowing the intimate activities of the wedding chamber. 

Perhaps the ultimate goal here though, is in the fortuitous physical development the 'fruit of the Maithuna'. An auspicious environment is solemnly created whereby a great person might be born; the Baiame, Buddah, Jesus, Muhammad... and this work ultimately falls to the quality of the woman who might begin the exaulted lineage. Without woman Jesus was not - and nor could any of the masters have been. Woman is the Matrix, and this painting reinforces her role as Generatrix.


Botticelli's particular allegory for the Birth of Venus was likely to have been somewhat influenced by Ficino and may suggest that the myth surrounding the Birth of Venus harbours a cosmogenical intuition which may infer that life on earth is of panspermic origin. This is to say that Venus, sea-born from the severed testicles of Uranus, can be allegorically interpreted as describing a heavenly body (comet or the like) falling to the Earth and mingling with the waters of the Earth to fertilize a first causeNurturing, invoking, and associating the creation myth with sacralised action (deep memory) perpetuates the myth of Venus as a description of first cause; teleologically self evident because she was considered eternally present in that every cosmological event participates in 'first causality, essentiality, and becoming'. If the universe and Venus are co-expressions of eternity it may be concluded that  desire, beauty and love are equally co-existent as ineradicable essential universal conditions, which (as a corollary) must also be considered eternalAll of this is to say the allegoric story of the Birth of Venus (when considered as an aeonic myth) describes the universe from an energistic viewpoint; an interpretation of life as an expression of a  fundamentally sexualised force - which is a way of understanding and interpreting the universe as both vivifying and fertile. Such a point of view is shared by the writer Deepak Chopra:
"Sexual energy is the primal and creative energy of the universe. All things that are alive come from sexual energy. In animals and other life forms, sexual energy expresses itself as biological creativity.." (3.)
Merely by participation in this myth, the Birth of Venus as presented by Botticelli maintains the conceptual gravity of the cosmic myth though it has been subordinated to the historical and cultural aspects of its expression; the reference to Pausanius + the influence of Ficino. Still, as presented by Botticelli the vulva remains the divine crucible in which the bond of love is forged as well as being the macrocosmic font (the waters) from which all life emerges. The Birth of Venus cannot help but expound that cultural conversation which hallows the concept of the vulva as the source of social, temporal and religious power. Here, the firm belief in this knowledge as knowledge (between men) now participates in this same knowledge as art and as an expression of power. Still, the Birth of Venus is delicately sensual and (upon scrutiny) erudite and (anciently) philosophical and yet Botticelli's clandestine argument remains courtly. It is therefore confined to the time and place of its origin at the court of the Medici under the likely guidance of Ficino. 

To those who knew the paintings meaning it must have been seen as beautifully considered. Botticelli's stylised presentation justifies the meaning of the myth of the birth of Venus and expounds upon the sanctification of the vulva/vagina in mythology, art, and religion. The unveiling of the vagina between lovers is the augur to intimacy, pleasure, as well as the generation of the species, and the sight of the vulva is believed to confirm attraction, to award and express desire (or sight of the vagina would not be permitted) and to set physical love aflame. So it is Peitho [persuasion] who divinely empowers the vulva and for these reasons it is the embodiment of the goddess of persuasion who greets Venus at the shore to ordain the vulva's form as the earthly crown of femininity; to henceforth imbue and sanctify with the irresistible power of persuasion. Again (refer to figs.1, 2, & 4.) Botticelli refers to this symbolic form via the folded cloth near to the head of Venus which symbolically represents the exoteric form of the mons/cleft and so, vulva

As a wedding commission the painting narrates the story found on the statue of Zeus in Greece by Pausanias at Olympia. Botticelli's has interpreted this brief description as the paintings 'moment' i.e., the moment when Peitho confers the persuasive force directly to the vulva/yoni of the goddess of love. By this action the power of Venus is located around the vulva which is now ordained as the sacred vessel of the feminine now sanctified by the will of the gods. The earthly fabric held by Peitho represents the anatomical form which from this point always remains directly linked to the cosmic (therefore sacred, holy etc.) and so Botticelli is narrating a precise (though imagined chronology) of that moment in myth. Peitho's action exalts the vulva as no less than the completion of female beauty and so this inauguration of Venus initiates the sanctification of the vulva and therefore all vulvae through all time.


Botticelli's essential focus within the structure of the Birth of Venus is furtively presented by clever use of an inconspicuous fold of cloth which is actually intended to politely represent the pudendal cleft

Fig 3. Birth of Venus (Detail)

When scrutinising the image (Fig 3) it can be seen that alterations were made during the development of the paintings Grand Motif which is actually the mons pubis metaphor which emphasises the form of the pudendal cleft (aka cleft of Venus). Under scrutiny the right side and lower left of this folded motif has been clearly altered during the paintings development, as there was originally a much smaller fold of cloth being held to Venus by her attendant (fig 4). On alteration this discreet emblem has become fuller, more rounded, and more symmetrical, therefore one can say - it has become a far more confident idea. 

Fig. 4.  Birth of Venus (Detail)
Fig. 5. Hysterical Sexual. Anish Kapoor. Fibreglass and gold - 2016

Botticelli has pursued his folded metaphoric vulva and developed the form with a far greater confidence. That formerly simple fold has now become symmetrical, fuller and decidedly emblematic. Compare Botticelli's symbolic form (fig 4) with the similar and 
distinctly vulvic form of Anish Kapoor's 2016 Hysterical Sexual (fig 5)

Botticelli's alteration has placed a grander and more proportionate symbol in the hand of Peitho and with this alteration Botticelli has further incorporated Marsilio Ficino's religious sycretism because it appears that Ficino's enthusiastic reconciliation of pagan and Christian philosophies has been introduced into this cosmogonic myth. Not only can it be seen that Botticelli's original idea has clearly become a symmetrically emblematic but now also includes the emerging three leaves and become further emboldened by advancing the influential Florentine's narrative (the three leaves representing the Christian Trinity) and this goes well beyond simply narrating the text of Pausanias. 

Clearly there has been a change of philosophical direction in this pagan narrative and where the form of  the cloth has been clearly rearranged there are those three points of a leaf (fig 4.) that can be seen to emerge from within the depth of the fold (the appearance of these leaves from the fold of cloth is actually something a magician might do with a coin and a piece of silk and certainly intends to announce something rather magical). It very much seems that Ficino's influence is being exercised either directly or indirectly and that the three points materialising from the fold actually do indeed represent the Christian trinity.  [But it is imperative to this argument that a detailed full screen view of this fold be viewed here where a clear view of the alterations made by Botticelli can be clearly defined.] 

While it is possible that these alterations to the grand motif might have come from a number of Lorenzo's tutors (or perhaps even reflectively by Botticelli himself) that passionate 'spiritual guide' that the historian Ernst Gombrich locates in Ficino is still the likely candidate. One senses that Ficino's syncretizing influence has had a persuasive effect on the course of this painting just as the presence of Ficino himself might influence the court and Lorenzo.

Those alterations to the Birth of Venus indicate a dramatic change of mind occurring during the painting's development. With this slight adjustment Botticelli's coronation appears to have originally intended to visually narrate the text of Pausanias which simply describes the goddesses emergence into the world. But inversely Botticelli is describing the emergence of the world from the creative feminine/sexual nature of the goddess, and the world emerges from the female matrix. The presence of the three points very strongly infer that this is a Christian world emerging from a pagan past, and in the symbolism of the three leaves, it likely to have been constructed under the influence of Ficino.


Fig 6. The Coronation of Venus Anadyomene. Annotated detail with nimbus.

That fold is not simply a felicitous motif - here it has become emphatically emblematic! The cloth which is embroidered with flowers and leaves emphasises the earthly element so to say this magic has been bestowed the physical vulvae of all women as if to say to the Venusian gender 'as you are intoxicating as you are beautiful as you are powerful as you are sacred'. The act of Peitho crowning Venus stresses the shift from a woman being a merely beautiful object to the goddess becoming an exalted being of great power (sexual - power over men) and this should be contextualised and considered in the same respectful manner in which the yoni is traditionally revered in Hinduism.

Placing a nimbus around the grand motif (fig 4.) the idea of sanctification becomes clearer and that Peitho is actually crowning Venus will become more readily conceivable. This crowning is the 'design event' and the 'visual foundation' around which the entire painting pivots structurally and conceptually. The robe presented to Venus by Peitho is not the starry robe as so many interpretations often attribute; it is clearly 'earthly' and so speaks of earthly form (the pudendal fissure) and the floaral embroidered design set upon sumptuous fabric must also indicate the youth of the goddess - consider here Flora's dress in Botticelli's Primavera (c.1482).


In Rudens ("The Rope") by the Roman playwright Plautus, a character remarks te ex concha natam esse autumant, cave tu harum conchas spernas (Act III, Scene iv, 704): since Venus is said to have been born from a shell, so the goddess should not neglect the "shells" of the two young women who have sought protection at her altar. James Eason: Da Costa and the Venus dione: The Obscenity of Shell Description. 

Fig 7. Mouth or opening of a conch shell.

In the Birth of Venus Botticelli has clearly re-invented that fold as a metaphoric reference to the vulva which may also invoke the mouth or opening of the conch shell. Symbolically the vulva is seen as the earthly counterpart of a divine feminine force whose physical form is to be found in phenomenological correspondences such as certain sea shells.  

Fig 8. Orpheus. (Formerly attributed to Giorgione)Venetian,  c.1515.

Turning to the Widener Orpheus Pan employs the conch to instruct the seated Venus of the sacredness of her form and educate her to the grand correspondences found in nature. The Romans saw this correspondence in the mouth of the conch (figs 5-6.) however the Greeks made supreme the almost perfect form of the cockle/scallop shell which in no way bears any resemblance  to the form of the vulva and this is because the Greeks saw the similitude of the vulva in the flesh of the creature residing inside the cockle shell. These distinctions are actually the fundamental distinctions between the two cultures at core and if we were to press further one might find that the Greeks held no shame in the open graphic understanding the explicit anatomy of the vagina whereas the Romans seemed to have reservations of going beyond the threshold of the mons pubis. The hand that was placed over the pudenda became the hand of shame where for the Greeks this was modesty as discretion over embarrassment, but there does not appear to assume the cultural imprint of shame.


The Alterations to the Fold.

In fig. 9 (below) the first joint of the forefinger can be discerned through the over painting, and the shadow of the gap between forefinger and middle finger can also be detected. Peitho's thumb has been clearly shortened to accommodate the idea of 'grip' and 'pressure' to the added cloth nearest the web of the thumb.

Fig 9. Birth of Venus (detail with annotations).

Referring to fig 9, the straight line markers radiating from positions a & mark the three areas of overpainting which have been added to the original design. Rather than an asymmetric piece of cloth which this section portrayed originally, a large area to the right side has been added - as has a smaller area to the lower left of the fold, giving the form more symmetry and which is far less likely to be misinterpreted as a simple, random fold. Botticelli's addition to the original form expounds upon the importance of the pudenda/shell motif. One can conclude that the annotations made to the cloth were an afterthought because clearly that fold has been developed to present a grander, symmetrical shape; it has become larger, rounded, and more full in appearance, and what this alteration to this small piece of cloth now achieves, is an effect of emblematic significance. 
[A detailed full screen view of this fold can be viewed here .] 
It appears to this writers eye that there may have been a petaled flower form - perhaps one of Botticelli's roses - originally emerging from the folded cloth and that faint petals of that rose are still be faintly residual on the now aged image but which was later reinvented in favour of the tri-leaved greenery over the original form of the rose. 

Fig 10. Flora's hand clasping roses. Primavera (detail)

Botticelli may have been intending to make an association with the roses clasped under the hand of Flora (fig 8.) in the Primavera (c. 1482) for if there were originally one of Botticelli's stylised roses (overpainted) from where the tri-leaved plant now emerges the argument for Ficino's influence increases and that plant emerging from the fold also revisits another idea used in the Primavera where plants emerge from the mouth of Chloris. It is common to find elements from an artist's oeuvre to reappear in later works. If so, the grand act - that of Peitho crowning Venus - would remain intact but the painting would have portrayed a beautifully simple visualisation of a pagan narrative but which has now been altered by the emergence of those three leaves which represent the Christian trinity. 


Two contemporary examples of comparably emblematic vulva motifs occur in the recent work of Anish Kapoor. If one might still be uncertain of equating Botticelli's fold of cloth with the abstract form of a vulva, Anish Kapoor's 2015 work titled Gold Pussy must surely reinforce the ovoid cleft form as a grand motif to intentionally signify the vulva (fig 11.). 

Fig 11. Gold Pussy. Anish Kapoor. Stainless steel and gold, 2015

Those glossy and distinctly glabrous vulva forms find resonance with Botticelli's vulva abstraction and comparably each Kapoor (figs. 5 & 11) clearly reference the mons pubis, vulva and the pudendal cleft. Just as there are metaphoric correspondence between Botticelli's fold and Kapoor's  & Gold Pussy & Hysterical Sexual (figs 5 & 11) the mouth of the conch shell also reveals this metaphoric correspondence. 

Fig 12 Three comparable forms reminiscent of the Vesica Piscis (Vesica Pisces).

Botticelli's fold intends to replicate the form of the pudendum femininum. In a sacred form the vulva is often geometrically designed by the interlocked circles which form the Vesica Piscis (see fig. 10) and this notion could also be considered present in Gold Pussy by Anish Kapoor (fig 11). 

Fig. 13. The approximate proportions of a vesica piscis.

It quite possible that the siting of Venus within the form of the Vesica Piscis is deliberate in Botticelli's painting because according to the calculations of Mr Gary Meisner the Birth of Venus also meets the mathematical requirements of an artwork steeped in the proportions of the Golden Mean. Meisner observes:   

"If the thickness of the canvas were o.5 centimeters, the dimensions of the frame wrapped underneath the four sides of the canvas would have been 171.5 x 277.5, the ratio of which is … 1.618, the golden ratio.  Whether exact or not, the dimensions are so close that one might rather easily conclude from this that Botticelli’s intent here was to begin this great work of art with the perfection of a Golden Ratio" (4)
This being so a secondary proposition involving the geometry of the Vesica Piscis might also be suggested. However as there is no clear proof of the intention (beyond the measurable existence of pi itself) the acceptance of the Vesica Piscis as an integral part of the paintings plan is not critical to the elucidation of the paintings meaning; but the possibility that it may exist must at least be considered as this concept can be geometrically aligned (see fig. 13) with Botticelli's design. 


Gustave Courbet's The Origin of the World (c. 1886) exhibits the vulva as a benign anatomical fact in the paintings immediate foreground and the bottom, thighs, stomach, breasts & nipples appear in foreshortened concentration. It could be suggested of this rendering that one may not isolate the vulva from any other element of female anatomy but as the sanctification of womanhood.

Fig 14. Gustave Courbet's 'L'Origine du monde 1866 (The Origin of the World).

Courbet's rather confrontational presentation is further emphasised by a realistic rendering, however the anonymity of the subject depersonalizes intimacy and so makes a generalisation of the specific (i.e., the vulva's form). When considering the subject matter of Courbet's painting's with this papers reconsidering of the Birth of Venus, the 'L'Origine du monde & the Birth of Venus are somewhat united philosophically. Clearly, while Courbet's realism thrusts the vulva to the foreground without adherence to any particular form of religiosity, Botticelli's discrete fold is an undeniable reference to Italian mythology which also blends a fusion of the Christian Trinity into an otherwise courtly pagan theme. More abstractly for Botticelli, the three aspects of the Trinity references the foundations of the three dimensional world, and therefore the vulva is presented in both paintings as the unchallenged matrix of the site of the emergence of spirit into matter. 

This is to say that creation and all apparent regeneration of the phenomenological world are emergent through the feminine and this must allude to the vivifying force behind the origin of life even on a cosmic scaleIf one were to place the triple -leaved foliage at the opening of Courbet's vulva the meaning of both paintings would remain intact: The vulva is the matrix of and entrance to this three dimensional world.


Fig 15. Birth of Venus (detail) with annotation by the author.
That small fold next to the beautiful face of Venus has been obfuscated and overwhelmed by variations on the same confused interpretations for five over hundred years. The immediacy of the Birth of Venus always intended to parallel the sum of her beauty in unabashed physical totality and here the vulva subtlety indicates the gateway to paradise both temporally and spiritually and represented here as the persuasive glory of the young goddess

Botticelli's Venus is actually invisible, as the goddess is in the process of being crowned by the physical archetypal form offered her by Peitho (persuasion) and what is more persuasive and appropriate to be sited above the marital bed (the paintings intended site) than an image dedicated to goddess of love and of lovers. Venus/Aphrodite is shown in Botticelli's painting as a divine emanation in the process of her mythical manifestation which is actually narrated by Botticelli as her coronation according to the observation of Pausanias

Fig 16. Birth of Venus with annotation by the author.

Even without the annotation above (fig. 16.) the metaphor is as emblematic as before because we now know the intention. By altering the fold in the hand of Peitho the painting is no longer a homage to the Greek myth but embraces the Italian  pudenda metaphor with an emblematic power. The earthly form of Venus is associated with and so defined by the vulva which is the physical form of her primary sexual differentiation and in Botticelli's painting the mysteries pertaining to the vulva as the matrix of creation crowns her glory. 

The painting is specifically feminine and intimately linked to water, salinity, and of course that anatomical key to to a fulfilled experience of human love and the potential doorway to divine/cosmic love (conceptual love) - the vulva/yoni. This is a conversation of sexual attraction, generative power and human anatomy and these conversations pursue the crowning beauty of the feminine whose harmonious form belies the entrance to this dimension through that irresistible and most genial human act. As is historically recognised the most fitting site for such a wedding gift may well have been above the marriage bed of the newlyweds.


1. Pausanias "Description of Greece" 5. 11. 8 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue c. 2nd A.D.)


3. Allegory, The Critical Idiom. John MacQueen. (Editor,  John D. Jump.) Greek and Roman Allegory,  Methuen & Co, London, 1970.

 5. Meisner, G. "Botticelli, The Birth of Venus and the Golden Ratio in Art Composition."


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