It is she, born from the white sea foam, covered only by her blonde hair, her limber body, gently pushed by peaceful zephyrs, on a seashell, who arrives to Earth to bring the world beauty and love.
It is Botticelli’s Venus, one of the most famous and admired images in the world. Together with the Spring, another iconic image that is very mysterious and filled with inscrutable symbolisms, they can be both found in the Uffizi gallery. These works represent an ideal world and the research for beauty and harmony, love and nature, which were greatly beseeched in the Florentine culture of the 1400’s. The two Medici brothers, Lorenzo the Magnificent and Giuliano, particularly researched these ideals.
One must observe Venus’ face, slightly tilted in the “Venus” and mysterious in the “Spring”, as if Botticelli had wanted to paint a dream, a declaration of lost love for the two most famous lovers of 1400’s Florence. Venus is the beautiful Simonetta Cattaneo, the sweet girl, born in Genova, or for some sources in Portovenere.
She descended from a great Ligurian dynasty and was married to the powerful Marco Vespucci – a distant cousin of the famous explorer Amerigo, who named the American continent – . Many memoires report the aesthetics canons of a type of beauty that was quite popular in Florence.
It wanted to recall the classical proportions, where body harmony, blonde hair and light colored eyes, associated to a grace of spirit and good manners, were fundamental features needed so that Cupid, the capricious Love, would shoot his sharp arrow. – Florentine women held many secrets to make their hair of a lighter color: decoloring powders with ash, sulfur and cinnabar, which all gave those golden shades that were very much appreciated). In our 1400’s love story, Eros shot Giuliano de’ Medici right to the heart.
He was the dear brother of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and had been portrayed by Botticelli many times. It is worth mentioning the representation of Venus and Mars, where the two lovers are resting beautifully in a long sleep of love. If Lorenzo represented the leadership of the city and the Signoria, Giuliano represented the dynamism and flourished youth, which gave new life to the city that, was born again with a light of beauty and culture, of studies and nature. Love, as Dante described it, quickly arrested their hearts and the two fell madly in love. A relationship that was always platonic and it was passed down by many poets and by the Medici family favorite painter, Botticelli.
Giuliano was a joust enthusiast and, as Poliziano celebrated in his poem “Stanze per la Giostra”, where he was honoring the young Medici, in 1475 there was a tournament in Santa Croce and our hero had a marvelous armor. It was worthy of a prince, sparkling for the precious stones, the helmet was chiseled by the Verrocchio school and, victorious, he won a banner with the inscription “La Sans Par” and a portrait of Simonetta done by Botticelli. The most beautiful had been celebrated in many poems and even the Magnificent dedicated to her delicate verses in his “Selve d’Amore”. Although, has a happy ending love story ever existed? Alternatively, a love so romantic that is passed on from generation to generation until it becomes a legend? Difficult, very difficult. She was married to a noble man; he was a Medici, a family that still had to reinforce their power, in a period in which mortal illnesses took away young lives. This was the case for sweet Simonetta.
After only a year from the memorable joust, on 26th of April 1476, the “subtle evil”, a way in which tuberculosis was called, destroyed her body. Some sources say that during the funeral procession the woman’s coffin was opened so that all the people could admire the sweetness of the beautiful Simonetta one last time. In one of his memoires, Lorenzo wrote the sonnet “O Chiara Luce” (Oh, Clear Light) where he imagined a new very bright star that symbolized Simonetta’s eternity.
Bad fate reached Giuliano shortly afterwards. In fact, two years after the death of his beloved, in 1478, he was killed during the conspiracy led by the Pazzi family, which had the intent of eliminating the Medici family. The main target was Lorenzo, but it was his younger brother who succumbed to the knife wounds inflicted by Francesco dei Pazzi e Bernardo Baroncelli.
Coincidence or fate, made it so that Giuliano would die on a 26th of April, almost as if sealing the eternal love between the young Medici and the beautiful Simonetta, which enchants Florence still to this day.