While out for a walk this afternoon in glorious sunshine, I was reminded again that no matter how bad things are in Ireland, we have some things that the ECB or the IMF cannot take from us. Everywhere things seemed to be about to burst into bud and new green shoots were springing up all around- and I am not talking about the green shoots politicians are so fond of referring to when talking about the economy! The earth is renewing itself. Today is the first dayof Spring at least in metrological terms (although as a fan of the goddess Brigid, I regard February as the first of Spring) but that’s another story. Inspired by a few people who have asked me why I haven’t been blogging of late – I decided to share some thoughts on La Primavera or Allegory of Spring for the day that’s in it.
It was painted in around 1482 by the great Italian Renaissance painter Alessandro (Sandro) Botticelli who was born in Florence in 1444 or 1445. The painting is is an allagorical work representing the lush and abundant growth of Spring, although some scholars have argued that it represents neoplatonic love. The history of the painting is not known with certainty, but it is likely that it was commissioned by the De Medici family.
The scene is set in a green forest and the figure of Venus in brightly coloured robes, dominates the painting. To her left are are the figures of Flora, strewing flowers from the folds of her dress. Beside her is the figure of Chloris in a diaphanous dress who is being seized by the winged figure of Zephyr – the god of wind and the harbinger of Spring, his unatural pallor separating him from the other figures. He raped Flora and in atonanment married her. This marriage elevated her to a goddess, Chloris and so we have two represenations of her as nymph and goddess.
To the right of Venus are the figures of the Three Graces and to their left is Mercury, a god associated with the month of May. Venus in the centre is the Goddess of love and she directs a cupid who is blindfolded to shoot his arrow at one of the Graces.
So that is a very brief discription of the painting but in a way it means nothing. I remember the first time I saw the painting in reality. I stood in front of it transfixed. It was, and is, useful to know the history and narrative of a painting but in another way it is irrelevant. The painting is very beautiful and very moving. So too is a newly bloomed flower, like the daffodils I saw on my walk today. I suppose nature is the greatest artist of all.
What I am seeking is not the real and not the unreal but rather the unconscious, the mystery of the instinctive in the human race.
Some weeks ago I was looking after my young niece Aoibhe. She likes to paint but usually she works on paper. On the particular day she came to visit, I had a blank canvas on my easel. I had intended painting something myself that day. Aoibhe, however decided that she wanted to paint something on the canvas and this is the result. What amazed me at the time was her choice of subject matter – she knew exactly what she wanted to paint – the Grim Reaper. I have absolutely no idea where she got the idea from, but she knew what he looked like. Refusing all offers of help with colour or brush choice , she went ahead and within half an hour she had created this painting. I love it – as far as I am concerned it is the best painting in the whole wide world!! I should also point that Aoibhe is a very happy child, full of energy and life. This is, I think, reflected in this work
The figure of the Grim Reaper dominates the picture, shrouded in his black cloak and carrying his scythe. He stands in fire and is accompanied by a large black bird with white beak who flies overhead. On either side of him are two ghosts (I subsequently found out), who are ascending towards the sky. What I love about this picture is that despite the subject matter, it is full of colour and, I found out later that the reason for this is that they are all in heaven. Every time I look at this painting I smile. It is full of optimism and innocence. Unfortunately the artist refused to give it to me as she wanted to give it to her mother.
I am reminded again of that quote of Picasso’s “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up”
Art is not made for anybody and is, at the same time, for everybody
Simplicity of form is not necessarily simplicity of experience