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Work Venus and the Three Graces Presenting Gifts to a Young Woman

Department of Paintings: Italian painting

Venus and the Three Graces Offering Gifts to a Young Lady, also known as Young Lady with Venus and the Graces

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

Paintings
Italian painting

Author(s):
Bastien Speranza, Dominique Thiébaut

This fresco is from the Villa Lemmi, a property near Florence that belonged to the Tornabuoni family, allies of the Medici. This decorative work may have been commissioned from Botticelli to mark the marriage of a member of this influential Florentine Dynasty - could the young woman of the title be Nanna di Niccolò Tornabuoni? Escorted by the Three Graces, Venus is shown placing a gift in the cloth container held out to her by the bride-to-be.

A Neoplatonic visual repertoire

In the simplest of settings the young woman on the right, hieratically portrayed and clad in a scarlet robe, receives a bouquet of flowers from Venus. Seen in profile, the goddess is accompanied by the delicately curvaceous Three Graces in their transparent, swirling dresses. A Cupid rounds off the composition on the far right, while on the left an enigmatic fountain serves to situate the scene in some imaginary garden.
Botticelli is influenced here by the Neoplatonic theories then being preached at the Medici court by Marsilio Ficino. Goddess of love, Venus also embodied the quest for the knowledge that brings immortality for the soul. The Graces, according to Seneca, stand for the threefold aspect of generosity: the giving, receiving, and returning of gifts or benefits.

Ideal Beauty and the world of ideas

Through the intervention of Venus, the woman on the right is being given access to Ideal Beauty and the world of ideas. She represents the mere mortal: almost cumbersomely tall, she stands in marked contrast with the impression of lightness emanating from the Graces. Her direct, impenetrable gaze seems to skim over the deities without actually registering them. The material character of the gift she is receiving matters little: the artist's emphasis is on the act of giving.
This fresco represents the culmination of Botticelli's development of philosophical concepts: stripped of all excess ornament, it offers us a world of ideas in which line and color shape the absolute domain of beauty.

The Villa Lemmi frescoes

This fresco is one of a set of three discovered under a coat of whitewash in the loggia of the Villa Lemmi in 1873. The Louvre purchased two of them; the third, being too badly damaged, remained in situ. Its companion piece shows a young man being introduced to the Liberal Arts. Some commentators have tried to link these two fragments to the marriage of Lorenzo Tornabuoni and Giovanna degli Albizi in 1486, but given a probable earlier date (c. 1483) for the fresco cycle and the lack of precise knowledge as to who owned the villa, we cannot be certain that the two young people portrayed are indeed the couple concerned.

Technical description

  • Alessandro FILIPEPI, known as Sandro BOTTICELLI (Florence, c. 1445 - Florence, 1510)

    Venus and the Three Graces Offering Gifts to a Young Lady, also known as Young Lady with Venus and the Graces

    c. 1483-85

  • Fresco

    H. 2.11 m; W. 2.83 m

  • Acquired in 1882

    R.F. 321

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Percier and Fontaine
    Room 1

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