Classic but Contemporary: What would Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus look like with today’s standards of beauty?
One of the most recognisable paintings of the Renaissance, Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus depicts the arrival of the classical Goddess of love and sex, and with it the entrance of divine beauty into the world. The face of Venus in this painting has been considered one of the most beautiful throughout the history of art, but how do the Renaissance ideals of long flowing blonde hair, voluptuous curves and a large forehead translate to what the notion of female beauty means today? The possession of a large forehead today has its place in old tales of big brains and intelligence, but correct me if I’m wrong in saying that it isn’t a particular foothold on the scale of attractiveness nowadays.
Held up as a deity in this painting Venus herself is considered to be the idealised version of a woman, and Botticelli was known for his appreciation and expression of the perfect woman. Pair them together and we are presented with the ‘original blonde bombshell,’ but what later becomes strikingly obvious is the impossibility of it all (aside from the birth of a full grown woman in a shell and the Wind God Zephyr who blows her to shore, that is). Her typical contrapposto pose does not have the correct centre of weight for it to be possible for her to stand this way, there are no shadows underneath the figure, and her beauty distracts from her unnaturally long neck and the steep fall of her shoulders. In sacrificing realism for a graceful outline of harmony, the pedestal upon which Botticelli places Venus with this depiction of perfection immediately enters the realm of the imaginary and pertains even in 1485, to the unrealistic expectations that still haunt the idea of feminine beauty today.
Some of the more learned among us may cast aside the novels of Ian Fleming overlooking their academic capability, however in his novel Dr. No., Fleming alludes to Botticelli’s painting when the figure of Honey Ryder emerges from the sea. Realised in the film by Ursula Andress, we are presented with a more contemporary embodiment of this idealised perfection. Although still blonde, the actress’ tanned skin and more slender figure redefine the upheld object of the male gaze (we won’t try to tackle in this short article the shift from Botticelli’s melancholic modesty to Honey’s dagger at the hip in this series of films where women are highly sexualised). It seems then that what we describe as a ‘Botticelli figure’ today was not part of the perfect woman in the 60s, the decade of Twiggy and a Vogue diet that consisted of hard-boiled eggs, black coffee and white wine (preferably chablis). If painted in these years, Venus would have most likely been an unrecognisable version of herself, but with the recent body positivity movement (woo girl power) perhaps these ideals will begin to shift back to how they were in the 1400s? Despite hard work it is taking time to debunk the wide circulated rumour that gingers have no souls, but with the recent anti-racist movement and embracing of all colours of skin, the ideal of blonde hair has rather been lost in translation. As for the length of her hair, quite frankly I commend anyone who has the patience to maintain this Rapunzel level mane in this day and age and I think we will put the appeal of a large forehead down to personal preference.
 Sotheby’s Most Famous Artworks in the World series, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dYAa5hjEZg