(b. 1445, Firenze, d. 1510, Firenze)
Venus and Marsc. 1483
Tempera on wood, 69 x 173,5 cm
National Gallery, London
The painting of Venus and Mars deals with an amorous victory. A grove of myrtle trees, the tree of Venus, forms the backdrop to the two gods who are lying opposite each other on a meadow. Venus is clothed and is attentively keeping watch over Mars as he sleeps. The god of war has taken off his armor and is lying naked on his red cloak; all he is wearing is a white loin cloth.
The goddess of love, who is clothed in a costly gown, is watching over the sleeping naked Mars, while little fauns are playing mischievously with the weapons and armor of the god of war. Botticelli's theme is that the power of love can defeat the warriors strength. The boisterous little fauns that form part of the retinue of Bacchus, the god of wine, are depicted by Botticelli, in accordance with ancient tradition, with little goats' legs, horns and tails. The Triton's shell with which one of the fauns is blowing into Mars' ear was used in classical times as a hunting horn.
Botticelli let himself be inspired by classical models. The mischievous little satyrs playing practical jokes nearby were probably suggested by a description of the famous classical painting Wedding of Alexander the Great to the Persian princess Roxane, written by the Greek poet Lucian. Botticelli replaced the amoretti which Lucian describes playing with Alexander's weapons with little satyrs. His painting is one of the earliest examples in Renaissance painting to depict these boisterous and lusty hybrids in this form. They are playing with the war god's helmet, lance and cuirass. One of them is cheekily blowing into his ear through a sea shell. But he has as little chance of disturbing the sleeping god as the wasps nest to the right of his head. The wasps may be a reference to the clients who commissioned the painting. They are part of the coat of arms of the Vespucci family, whose name derives from vespa, Italian for wasp. Given that its theme is love, this painting was possibly also commissioned on the occasion of a wedding.