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Essay on Myth within Art and The Birth of Venus

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One need only stroll through any major art museum to come to the conclusion that many great artists are inspired by mythology. At first blush, the fascination with mythology might seem as if the artists are hiding from reality and retreating into fantasy. However, one who believes that has only a limited understanding of the role of mythology in culture, because myths “are not childish stories or mere pre-scientific explanations of the world, but serious insights into reality.” This is because mythical themes help explain cultural norms, and how various cultural groups approach major issues like sex, death, marriage, childbirth, and war.
One of the more interesting characters in mythology is the Roman goddess Venus. Venus was the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, and the Roman version of the goddess was largely influenced by the earlier Greek myths about Aphrodite. Venus played a major role in Roman culture during the Roman Republic and empire, and was associated with love, beauty and fertility. She was also considered the literal ancestor of the Roman people. The Birth of Venus was painted by Italian artist Sandro Botticelli in 1484 or 1485, though its origin and patron are otherwise unknown.
The myth of the birth of Venus is incredibly symbolic. According to both Greek and Roman mythology, Uranus, the ruler of the universe, was killed by his son Saturn. Uranus had been intent upon hiding some of his children, which enraged Gaia, Saturn’s mother. Saturn used a giant sickle and ambushed Uranus, cutting off his genitals, castrating Uranus, and casting the severed member into the sea. Accounts vary, but either Uranus’ blood or semen created several different varieties of mythical demi-gods. In addition...


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...ooking left arm or her oddly-long neck.
Sexuality has played an important role in art, since its very beginning. Mythology has played a similarly important role in human culture. It is not surprising, then, that mythology, culture, art, and sexuality have a unique relationship. Botticelli’s portrayal of Venus’ birth brings together those elements to reveal how female sexuality has been portrayed as threatening and healing at the same time. In this way, Botticelli uses an existing myth to contrast with modern attitudes about sexuality, making the viewer question their own moral standards.



References

Botticelli, S. (1485). The birth of Venus. Retrieved March 19, 2009 from Artchive. Web site:
http://artchive.com/artchive/B/botticelli/venus.jpg.html
Cavendish, R. Ed. (1980). An illustrated encyclopedia of mythology. New York: Crescent
Books.


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