Spring Planning and Botticelli’s Primavera

For most, it’s New Year’s Day that is the time for new beginnings – for resolutions, goals and future plans. But for me, it’s spring. There is something about the arrival of spring weather that motivates me to nest, much like the birds that show up in the newly budding trees at my house. This is the time of year when the winter doldrums begin to diminish and the world around me seems to be coming back to life. I feel a sense of regeneration now that my winter “hibernation” is over and bright colors return. In fact, some argue that spring is the best time of year to “wipe the slate clean” and begin again. Excitement builds as it is time to shed the winter clothing, drop the winter weight, and update the wardrobe as we spring forward toward summer.

With summer on the horizon, then, it doesn’t take long for me to begin thinking about June – which, for me, means Italy and Botticelli’s Primavera. For years, I have been trekking to Italy with dozens of college undergraduates to study various topics for a few weeks. Study abroad is my passion, and Italy is like my second home. There is little I love more than seeing this amazing country through new eyes each year as my students view its wonders.

Of course, one of the obligatory stops is the Uffizi museum in Florence, which means a visit to the most popular and visible Italian Renaissance painting by Sandro Botticelli, entitled Primavera or Allegory of the Spring (circa 1482). I often stand behind students when viewing Primavera so that I may watch them as they look deeply at the details – at the naturalistic and humanistic forms that include figures from the material and spiritual worlds. The painting remains a bit of a mystery, as we are unsure of its exact date of creation or its exact meaning. At least one observer has described the work of art as “a feast for the eyes, a glorification of youth and spring and love.” Others have expounded upon the painting’s creation and underlying purpose – to commemorate a Medici wedding. And some have focused not on the mythological figures, but the various flora and fauna present on the canvas. To quote a post from the website Plant Curator:

The vegetative elements [in Botticelli’s Primavera] have been so well done that [a] BBC film…states: “For some it’s not so much high culture as horticulture.” We like that. It is widely reported that the meadow has over 500 individual flowers, each one uniquely painted. We assume this number has been reached by someone painstakingly counting them all.

And of course, there are feminist interpretations of Primavera as well.

What does all this mean for us? It seems that Botticelli’s version of spring renewal, of love and new growth, is most certainly a representation of a diverse landscape, one including various forms and figures – men, women, gods, goddesses and cherubs – and flowers, as well as a combination of material, natural and mythological elements. There is clearly something for everyone in this beautiful piece that has piqued our curiosity for more than 500 years.

But most importantly, for me anyway, Primavera represents spring – and lovely memories of summer study abroad. Such memories refresh the mind during this season of regeneration and spark excitement for what lies ahead more so than what has transpired. Whatever your spring traditions may be, use the season to reinvigorate, rejuvenate and revive after a long winter. Think forward rather than fall back. It’s vital to revitalize!

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