In Botticelli’s Primavera the source for the grouping of Zephyrus, Chloris and Flora is attributed to words written by the classical Roman poet, Ovid.
The god of the West Wind came upon the flower nymph Chloris in the Elysian Fields, a place of the blessed. Zephyrus abducted Chloris and raped her. He later repented his crime and married Chloris who had no regrets and became Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers.
The Roman poet Ovid wrote in Fasti 5: “The goddess replied to my questions; as she talks her lips breathe Spring roses: ‘I was Chloris, who am now called Flora’”. Hence the roses depicted rambling from the mouth of Chloris and her attachment to the figure of Flora.
However, there are other words by Ovid which Botticelli adopted to make a clear statement as to the method he intended to use to illustrate and link the several narratives in the Primavera painting, hinted by the transformation of Chloris in to Flora.
Ovid’s first words in his narrative poem Metamorphoses are: “I intend to speak of forms changed into new identities…”
The poet’s declaration is a clear explanation as to why Botticelli incorporated more than one identity into the Primavera figures, particularly with the so-called figure of Mercury which portrays several people.
From this it can be understood that Primavera is not simply a painting only to be observed and analysed or understood in the context of Greek and Roman mythology. It transcends beyond these limits – transforming and changing our perceptions of what we see and understand before us. It is revealing, yet mystical, inspiring a sense of spiritual mystery.
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