A close encounter with Sandro Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’

By Alex P. Vidal

“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”—Michelangelo

I THOUGHT there was no need for me to travel to Florence, Italy’s Uffizi Gallery to have a “close encounter” with Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus.

Inside the fabulous Avant Gallery at the Hudson Yards in Manhattan, I came face to face with the stunning work of art’s modern interpretation on September 5 during a chance visit.

The original plan was to drop by at the controversial tragedy-laden The Vessel, its spiral staircase has been known to be Hudson Yards’ extraordinary centerpiece and a soaring new landmark. A chance visit at Avant Gallery inside the adjacent mall proved to be more exciting and exhilarating.

The Vessel, an interactive artwork and Hudson Yards’ main attraction nowadays, was imagined by Thomas Heatherwick and Heatherwick Studio as a focal point where people can enjoy new perspectives of the city and one another from different heights, angles and vantage points.

Back to the Birth of Venus. The painting actually shows the goddess of love and beauty arriving on land, on the island of Cyprus, born of the sea spray and blown there by the winds, Zephyr and, perhaps, Aura.

The goddess is standing on a giant scallop shell, as pure and as perfect as a pearl.

She is met by a young woman, who is sometimes identified as one of the Graces or as the Hora of spring, and who holds out a cloak covered in flowers.


Even the roses, blown in by the wind are a reminder of spring. The subject of the painting, which celebrates Venus as symbol of love and beauty, was perhaps suggested by the poet Agnolo Poliziano.

It is highly probable that the work was commissioned by a member of the Medici family, although there is nothing written about the painting before 1550, when Giorgio Vasari describes it in the Medici’s Villa of Castello, owned by the cadet branch of the Medici family since the mid-15th century.

This hypothesis would seem to be born out by the orange trees in the painting, which are considered an emblem of the Medici dynasty, on account of the assonance between the family name and the name of the orange tree, which at the time was ‘mala medica’.

Unlike the “Allegory of Spring”, which is painted on wood, the “Birth of Venus” was painted on canvas, a support that was widely used throughout the 15th century for decorative works destined to noble houses.

According to Gle Gallerie Degli Uffizi, Botticelli takes his inspiration from classical statues for Venus’ modest pose, as she covers her nakedness with long, blond hair, which has reflections of light from the fact that it has been gilded; even the Winds, the pair flying in one another’s embrace, is based on an ancient work, a gem from the Hellenistic period, owned by Lorenzo the Magnificent.

Back in New York on March 14, 2019, Avant Gallery’s first permanent New York outpost held its first reception at 30 Hudson Yards on Level One of the complex, coinciding with the new development’s launch in Manhattan’s West Side.

The inaugural show first opened to the public beginning March 15, 2019. There Goes The Neighborhood: New Art for The New, New York is a group exhibition featuring an international selection of Avant Gallery’s diverse and multifaceted roster of talent.

An exciting opportunity to showcase the gallery’s expanding program in the new heart of the “capital of the world,” There Goes the Neighborhood highlighted the visceral act of creation through a variety of media.

Artists in the exhibition included Skyler Grey, BNS, LaSso, Will Kurtz, Jacqueline Suowari, Florian Eymann, Christian D. Pope, Guy le Baube, STMTS, Lina Condes, Tom Fruin, and Leo Caillard.

Known as “The Fresh Prince of Street Art” and an alum of Forbes Magazine’s 30 Under 30 list, Los Angeles based Skyler Grey’s unique painting sensibility collapses pop irreverence with haute couture.

Grey worked on a historic design collaboration with Automobili Lamborghini for the Aventador SVJ Roadster series, the first artistic alliance for the Italian company.


Nigerian born Jacqueline Suowari used ball-point pen to render intimate, large-scale portraits of African life, often focusing on women through a pictorial language which intertwines the traditional with the contemporary.

In homage to the Brooklyn Water Towers, Tom Fruin unveiled new architectural works which played with color and light through glass, steel, plastic, and found objects.

Will Kurtz created life-size figurative sculptures out of newspaper to reflect on everyday humanity through a raw ephemerality, and will unveil his lifesize rendition of Albert Einstein, coinciding with Einstein’s birthday of March 14th.

Color-blind artist BNS created surreal, archival portraits infused with humorous tattoo iconography while Colombian artist, Felipe Echeverry, or LaSsO, fuses Mid-century modern imagery with tropical influences to reflect on the diasporic experience.

The inaugural exhibition included additional curated programming and site-specific interventions throughout the gallery as well as the entire 1,000,000 square foot development that unfolded throughout 2019.

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)