Belfast Telegraph

Naked truth is I'm in love with goddess whose name is Venus

By Mike Gilson

I'm in love with another woman. She's a little older than me. We glanced at each other across a crowded room when we first met.

I could tell she was only interested in me. Those doleful brown eyes followed me everywhere. Of course, she's beautiful, divine even.

She has long golden hair down well below her waist, which she holds demurely in her left hand. But it's the perfection of her face that transfixes.

The lovely symmetry, the beatific enigma of her features, arched eyebrows, oval eyes, ruby red lips. In fact, so deep can you dive into her gaze, so tortured can you become trying to work out what she must be thinking, that you can quite forget she wears no clothes.

She is Venus and she was painted more than 500 years ago by Sandro Botticelli. She lights up the magnificent Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy, where I stumbled on her last week while on a short break. I'm not always popping over there, honest. Just got the chance and jumped at it.

The Uffizi is perhaps the world's most important Renaissance art gallery. Hundreds of classics line the walls and three hours isn't enough to take them all in. But it is Venus you will remember. What is it about the way Botticelli painted her that makes her radiate every day from all the way back to 1486 while the hundreds of years and millions of eyes have worn away the vitality of so many others there?

The Birth Of Venus was commissioned by the rich, powerful medieval rulers of Florence, the Medicis. It shows Venus, the goddess of love, emerging fully grown from the waves in a sea shell. There are many interpretations of what the painting represents and why, but none of them really matters. She symbolises the power of beauty in art. An art that you just need to stand in front of and stare, not shuffle by illegally snapping on iPad cameras like so many half-wits did when I was there.

She was the first woman in art to reveal her nakedness. Until then, no painter had dared show the unadorned female form. So, she was revolutionary, and for centuries afterwards artists, almost always men, would do little else but "celebrate" the nude.

On her right the winds blow her hair, but on the left her handmaid steps forward with a cloak to cover her nakedness. Botticelli chooses to freeze that moment, leaving Venus with only her hands to cover her modesty.

I'm certainly not expert on art, but when the gallery brochure tells you the painting is about the birth of love, and that she will forever symbolise that spiritual beauty is the driving force for life, you find yourself nodding like a lovelorn imbecile.

Why is she so vibrant? Exceptional technique, says the brochure, as well as the use of expensive alabaster powder making colours brighter and long-lasting.

Whatever the truth, her power will grow as the years go by. In a world of instant gratification, half-a-second thoughts and white noise, there is Venus: beautiful, unrushed, profound, timeless.

She'll be there now, rising unperturbed above the throngs. Is she waiting for my return? I'd like to think so.

Mike Gilson is Editor of the Belfast Telegraph

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