The Italian retailer Bulgari occupies prime real estate at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street for its New York flagship. The large areas of the building’s facade above street level are often filled with blown-up images of the brand’s jewelry and handbags. The last time I walked by, however, I noticed that Bulgari was showing us something different, a much older piece of Italian culture: details of the Renaissance masterpiece Primavera by Sandro Botticelli.
Primavera (circa 1482) hangs in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Scholars have been debating its meaning for centuries. Is it an allegory of love? an embodiment of the new humanist philosophy of the Renaissance? a tribute to a recent marriage in the wealthy Medici family? an illustration of some fifteenth-century poem?
I’m no Renassiance art historian, so I’ll stick with the general consensus that Primavera is mythological staging of the first Spring at the beginning of time. All the figures have been identified for us by the scholars: Venus, the goddess of love (and of the month of April) stands at the center in a red and white gown, with Cupid hovering above her. At the right, the wind god Zephyrus pursues the nymph Chloris. Chloris re-appears in a new incarnation as Flora, goddess of Spring, who scatters flowers on the ground. At the very left of the picture, the god Mercury pushes the clouds aside with his staff.
For its windows, Bulgari’s designers chose details of four figures from Primavera: blindfolded Cupid, Flora (in her flowered gown), one of the dancing Three Graces (remember them?), and handsome Mercury, the god of the month of May. Perfect timing!
When I was twenty-one, I traveled to Florence with my family; naturally, we visited the Uffizi. I had been looking forward to seeing Botticelli’s most famous work, The Birth of Venus, but when I entered the gallery of Botticelli’s paintings, I was instantly enamored of Primavera. I still have a special fondness for this image, and I’m happy to encounter it anywhere, even (cropped and scrambled) in an upscale jeweler’s windows on Fifth Avenue.
Images: Bulgari photos by Tinsel Creation; Primavera, via Wikipaintings.org; Admiring “Primavera” by Botticelli by conxa.roda via flickr. Thanks to Oxford Art Online and to Frederick Hartt’s History of Italian Renaissance Art for refreshing my memory on the details of this painting.