Artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s painting The Birth of Venus is part of a long and venerable tradition of images that depict the Classical goddess Venus. And perhaps the most famous paradigm for the birth of Venus was created during the Renaissance, by the artist Sandro Botticelli. Botticelli’s Birth of Venus set the standard for artists for centuries to come. So in spite of the differences in these two versions of the same subject, it is obvious that Bouguereau owes an artistic debt to his Renaissance predecessor.
In Bouguereau’s painting, we see the goddess of love and beauty standing in the center of the image. Venus is nude (remember, according to the story, she has just been born from the sea) and she poses on her sea-shell platform. A throng of mythical onlookers surrounds the glorious goddess. These creatures of sea and sky - including tritons, sea nymphs, and putti - gaze with admiration at the newly-born deity.
The image is a grand example of beautiful technique and clever composition (an example of this compositional creativity can be seen in the vortex of putti in the background). However, there is little passion in this painting. In essence, The Birth of Venus demonstrates Bouguereau’s skill at portraying perfectly painted figures. While this slick, Academic style might strike the contemporary viewer as more than a bit contrived, the fact remains that during his lifetime, the artist was both fashionable and highly successful.
The Birth of Venus is in the collection of the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris, France.