Primavera

Botticelli’s, “Young Man Holding a Roundel”. (Source: Sotheby’s)

Legend has it that in February, 1497 when art across Florence was destroyed in a religious fervour that would become known as “The Bonfire of the Vanities”, the Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli consigned many of his greatest works to the flames. In consequence paintings by Botticelli, an artist who painted secular subjects in tempera that look surprisingly like religious objects in tapestry, are rare. So rare in fact that last month when the press reported the last known Botticelli portrait in private hands was on the market, the starting price then was a cool US $80 million. Remind me to check my trousers for loose change next time I’m pulling on my socks, but with only a dozen or so of Botticelli’s portraits thought to have survived to the present day, it’s pretty much a clear case of supply and demand.

Anyone who remembers the pre-Creative Cloud versions of Adobe Illustrator will know the angelic face of Botticelli’s Venus.

I’ve said before in these pages that artistic expression is one of the things that defines our humanity, but I’m afraid this is not something that can easily be defined in dollar terms, a truth that was all too evident when the arts community held out its empty beret for a Government funded COVID rescue package in March. As a case in point, Botticelli’s two best known masterpieces are of course “The Birth of Venus” and “Primavera,” both considered to be key moments in the history of Western art but neither of which you are ever going to see wearing a price tag. The paintings are believed to feature the original “It-girl” of the Renaissance Simonetta Vespucci, who in the case of the Venus, was painted in her very becoming birthday suit as a tribute to angelic beauty. In the Primavera the same face is used again but as an allegory of the youth and vitality of spring. Simonetta died young so both the Primavera and Venus must have been produced posthumously. If the Venus is a homage to beauty and the Primavera an affirmation of spring, then both paintings can be seen as a testament to the short lived nature of beauty in all its forms.

Botticelli’s Primavera in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence. (Source:Wikipedia)

Botticelli worked as an artist more than 600 years ago but his paintings were still an inspiration to the Pre-Raphaelites when they came along in the 19th century and to their supporters like Edward La Trobe Bateman who sketched the Yallambie landscape in such famously minute detail and who later developed as an important garden designer. I’ve written posts about gardens and the changing seasons a couple of times previously but this year I’m thinking it all seems somehow different, and not just in the playing of footy finals interstate. An ABC science report yesterday about the health giving benefits of getting out into the garden during the pandemic quoted a Dr John Martin of the Taronga Conservation Society who said: “In our everyday life, there are things to discover about nature, and they don’t require travelling to the African savanna. There are very interesting things just on our doorsteps.”

 The same article pointed to the Urban Field Naturalist Project, a programme that urges people to look more closely at the natural world all around them, to be inspired by it and in some cases use it as a spring board for creativity.

“Take a moment
Listen, smell, look
Observe life around you
It may be familiar
Perhaps without intent, your attention has been caught
Share your observation as a story
We can all be Urban Field Naturalists” (The Urban Field Naturalist Project)

Yallambie Peony, September, 2020. Peonies flower just once a year and their blooms never last long. Fortunately when one lot of flowers ends in the garden there always something else just beginning. Bit of a life lesson really.

The Primavera was painted with a meticulous observation with perhaps 500 identified plant species depicted and about 190 different flowers recorded. Art historians have agonized about the meaning of the Primavera for hundreds of years but on one level at least I think it’s all quite simple. As an ode to spring the source of the Primavera is classical mythology but as for inspiration, well that itself is eternal. You don’t need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy into such niceties. You don’t necessarily need to find an artistic talent otherwise hidden under a rock to create it and you don’t need to travel to the African savannah to discover it. You see, it’s all around us. It’s around us even now in the form of a season that arrives around about this time of year, every year. Poets have written stanzas dedicated to it, painters have tried to capture its mood while gardeners the world over have rejoiced in nature’s unquestioned ability to be a show off.

I’m talking about spring of course, the real Primavera, and it doesn’t cost a thing. I’m afraid 2020 will long be remembered for all the wrong reasons but with Melbourne having been in a second lockdown these past two long months I’m hoping that the long dark tea-time of the soul is now almost over. The genie has been pushed back into the bottle and if we take care from this time on, there’s every chance he will stay there. Take a deep breath through the confines of your face mask and taste a change in the air. The bees are buzzing, the flowers are blooming and spirits are lifted outside in the glorious sunshine of early October. It’s spring in Yallambie, a time when hopes rise and we can all enjoy a bit of our own personal Primavera.

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