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The Virgin Mary is the most prominent figure in the composition, taking up much of the center of the image. Mary sits directly on the ground without a cushion between herself and the ground, to better communicate the theme of her relationship to the earth. The grass directly below the figure is green, which sharply contrasts to the grassless ground surrounding her, although the green is now darker and less visible than it was originally. Saint Joseph has a higher position in the image compared to Mary, perhaps as the head of the family, although this is an unusual feature in compositions of the Holy Family. Mary is located between his legs, as if he is protecting her. There is some debate as to whether Mary is receiving the Christ child from Joseph or vice-versa. Saint John the Baptist, the patron saint of Florence, is very commonly included in Florentine works depicting the Madonna and Child. He is in the middle-ground of the painting, between the Holy Family and the background. The elements around the family include plants and perhaps water.

The painting is still in its original frame, one that Michelangelo might have influenced or helped design. The frame is ornately carved and rather unusual for the five heads it contains which protrude three-dimensionally into space. Similar to the nudes of the background, the meanings of these heads has been subject to speculation. The frame also contains carvings of crescent moons, stars, vegetation, and lions? heads. These symbols are, perhaps, references to the Doni and Strozzi families, taken from each one?s coat of arms. As depicted on the frame, ?the moons are bound together with ribbons that interlock with the lions,? possibly referencing the marriage of the two families.

There is a horizontal band separating the foreground and background, whose function is to separate the Holy Family from the background figures and St. John the Baptist. The background figures are five nudes, whose meaning and function are subject to much speculation and debate. The Holy Family is much larger in size than the nudes in the background, and there appears to be water in between the land where the Holy Family and the nudes are situated. The Holy Family all gaze at Christ, but none of the nudes look directly at him. The far background contains a landscape.

Doni Tondo, Michelangelo

The iconography of Birth of Venus is similar to a description of the event (or rather, a description of a sculpture of the event) in a poem by Angelo Poliziano, the Stanze per la giostra. No single text provides the precise imagery of the painting, however, which has led scholars to propose many sources and interpretations. Art historians who specialize in the Italian Renaissance have found a Neoplatonic interpretation, which was most clearly articulated by Ernst Gombrich, to be the most enduring way to understand the painting. Botticelli represented the Neoplatonic idea of divine love in the form of a nude Venus.

For Plato ? and so for the members of the Florentine Platonic Academy ? Venus had two aspects: she was an earthly goddess who aroused humans to physical love or she was a heavenly goddess who inspired intellectual love in them. Plato further argued that contemplation of physical beauty allowed the mind to better understand spiritual beauty. So, looking at Venus, the most beautiful of goddesses, might at first raise a physical response in viewers which then lifted their minds towards the godly. A Neoplatonic reading of Botticelli's Birth of Venus suggests that 15th-century viewers would have looked at the painting and felt their minds lifted to the realm of divine love.

More recently, questions have arisen about Neoplatonism as the dominant intellectual system of late 15th-century Florence, and scholars have indicated that there might be other ways to interpret Botticelli's mythological paintings. In particular, both Primavera and Birth of Venus have been seen as wedding paintings that suggest appropriate behaviors for brides and grooms.

Yet another interpretation of the Birth of Venus (whose title derives from Vasari but whose action perhaps better represents the Arrival of Venus) is provided here by its author, Charles R. Mack. This interpretation has not been adopted by Renaissance art historians in general, and it remains problematic, since it depends on the painting being commissioned by the Medici, yet the work is not documented in Medici hands before 1550. Mack sees the painting as an allegory extolling the virtues of Lorenzo de' Medici.

The Birth of Venus, Botticelli

The painting features six female figures and two male, along with a blindfolded putto, in an orange grove. To the right of the painting, a flower-crowned female figure stands in a floral-patterned dress scattering flowers, collected in the folds of her gown.

Her nearest companion, a woman in diaphanous white, is being seized by a winged male from above. His cheeks are puffed, his expression intent, and his unnatural complexion separates him from the rest of the figures. The trees around him blow in the direction of his entry, as does the skirt of the woman he is seizing. The drapery of her companion blows in the other direction.

Clustered on the left, a group of three females also in diaphanous white, join hands in a dance, while a red-draped youth with a sword and a helmet near them raises a wooden rod towards some wispy gray clouds. Two of the women wear prominent necklaces. The flying cherub has an arrow nocked to loose, directed towards the dancing girls. Central and somewhat isolated from the other figures stands a red-draped woman in blue. Like the flower-gatherer, she returns the viewer's gaze. The trees behind her form a broken arch to draw the eye.

The pastoral scenery is elaborate. Botticelli (2002) indicates there are 500 identified plant species depicted in the painting, with about 190 different flowers. Botticelli. Primavera (1998) says that of the 190 different species of flowers depicted, at least 130 have been specifically named.

The overall appearance of the painting is similar to Flemish tapestries that were popular at the time.

La Primavera, Botticelli

The group of Madonna and Child is, unusually for the period, placed in front of an open window beyond which is a landscape inspired to Flemish painting. The Madonna sits on a chair, and has an elaborate coiffure with a soft veil and pearls: this element was re-used in numerous late 15th century works in Florence, including the slightly later Portrait of a Young Woman by Andrea della Robbia in Museo del Bargello. Unlike previous similar works, the Child is held not by the Madonna, but by two angels, one of which, in the foreground, smiles towards the observer.

Madonna with Child and two Angels, Filippo Lippi