The Birth of Venus and Phi


alright cherubs we’re looking at We’re looking at Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” Let’s start by identifying some characters: The central figure is, of course, Venus,
or, if we’re being greek about it, Aphrodite She’s the goddess of beauty,Whose gentle laugh can distract the most focused man Make dimwitted the most clever. this painting is telling the tale of her birth from sea foam sea foam that as the mythologies inform
us was mixed to fertilize with castrated genitals of the god of the sky. This is a classical story of beauty rising out from muck. to the left, right here, we have Zephyrus, or the west wind,
flying in with a woman clinging to him. Zephyrus represents a pretty little allegory: the gentle warm wind bringing spring back to the world. He’s a wind that gently lifts up and carries flowers to the world
every Spring, and that’s who that nice lady is: she’s flora the goddess a flower’s his sister but also his wife On the right side of the painting we have the Horae of Spring,
in a garment seemingly made of flowers, and, as Venus is about to step ashore, Spring is ready to clothe her. Now let’s talk about that for a second: Venus needs clothing. She’s perfectly naked here. Botticelli painted this about 1486, and Europe had not used nude figures in this way for about a thousand years. One could view a naked Eve in agony leaving the garden of Eden, but there, Eve’s nudity would remind us of her shame. Here, with Venus, there’s nothing regrettable about her nudity. She is the goddess of beauty: her nakedness is a celebration. This is a perfect example of the Renaissance. A rebirth of greek and roman themes. Classical Antiquity had its nude sculptures and Botticelli
has his nude Venus, posed in a strikingly similar way
to the greek sculpture now referred to as “The Medici Venus”. So let’s look at that further: To often students of Art History are contented after identifying what’s new about a certain painting. To often saying “No one has ever done this before!” is enough for them to qualify a painting as genius, or great, or whatever they want. The beauty here, the nudity, is not great because it was first. It’s great for so much more than that. To understand this, we need to look beyond Art history, beyond History, beyond Literature, beyond everything like that. If Botticelli were contented to say:
“I’m a creative artist type. I’m not into Science or Math”, his painting would not be as strikingly beautiful as it is. Botticelli’s genius cannot exclusively be categorized by his ability to create soft, sweet lines with his paintbrush; or his ability to break through that nude boundary. His genius cannot be taught once a day
for forty minutes in an Art room. His world is a much larger place than all of that. his world was a much larger place and
all that We figured there must be some sort of pattern in the painting, so we started to look for proportions. First, we looked at the canvas itself: Its width, according to the Uffizi Gallery,
measures 278.5 centimeters, and its height measures 172.5 centimeters When we divided 172.5 into 278.5, we arrived to the number 1.614. That might seem very uninteresting to you, but this number is very close to a well-known and often discussed irrational number known as Phi. Phi is equal to 1. 618033 dot-to-dot and so on, and when the ratio appears in a rectangle, this is often referred to as a ‘Golden Rectangle’. He’s a very special ratio that can be found throughout nature. There are a few other examples is a very special ratio that can be
found throughout nature there are a few of the golden rectangle in this work: Here, here, here. We then thought: “I bet Botticelli included this ratio in other aspects of his composition!”. So we started with the horizon line. And we divided the height of the sky into the height of the water, and we got 1.612. That’s six one-thousands off. Nothing can be a miscalculation in our part to slip up by such a small amount then we took a point on the horizon line
her navel and measured up to her head Then we took a point on the horizon line: her navel, and
measured up to her head, then measured down to her heel, and divided those numbers. We got 1.599. That’s two hundreds off the golden proportion. Pretty close! We then tried that same trick:
navel to head, navel to foot. on the other figures and found the golden proportion again. then we got a little crazy and thought: “What about the trees?” When we divided the length of the branch into the length of the entire tree we got 1.618. there It is again! Then we thought: It’d be really impressive if Botticelli somehow had the ratio of the figures in the foreground to the ratio of the all painting, be the golden ratio as well. To figure this out we imported a proportionally accurate image of the painting into Photoshop and used the lasso tool to remove the images in the foreground. We removed Venus, Zephyrus, both Floras, the trees, some of the flowers and asked Photoshop to calculate the number of pixels. We found they equal 128,818. We then divided that number into the number of total pixels in the image: 215,574, and arrived at 1.673. Pretty darn close to Phi! And a different could be our inaptitude to Photoshop. – I trust Botticelli a little more than I trust myself. There have been some studies down to disprove the myth that the golden ratio or the gilded rectangle is universally beautiful. But the fact remains: a human brain is hardwired to find patterns in things. Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” certainly allows our brain to find patterns in things. The ratio 1.618 appeared all over this painting and conscious of that pattern or not, our brains enjoy looking at it. It’s a mathematically beautiful painting of the goddess of beauty.

33 Replies to “The Birth of Venus and Phi”

  1. These are really cool videos. I'm a painter and I don't bring math into my composition conciously, but it does seem to often show up when I judge things as "looking right" and "looking off". I will go back to paintings I did and realize that I put things in places or took things out until "it looked right." I wonder if the old masters maticulously planned out and measured proportions, or if the just fiddled with things until "it looked right" as well.

  2. With Piero della Francesca, I think, it is absolutely on purpose. He was a geometer who wrote books on the topic. Concerning the Birth of Venus, Botticelli certainly would have been exposed to literature on the golden mean, and been exposed to art work containing, purposefully, that proportion. Whether or not every example of the proportion we found in this painting was done on purpose is anyones guess, however.

  3. Tt's not just the artistry that makes the painting good, but the mathematics that our subconsciouses can't help but recognize. Even if this was about the artistry, your idea of beauty doesn't stack with everyone's, especially others from 1486. The idea that tan skin is beautiful has existed for little over a century; just the opposite used to be standard. And a lot of people have the head to think past cup size. I see nothing wrong with her stomach nor her ankles: if anything, she looks healthy.

  4. Fitness and body toning have been parts of culture as long as there's been culture: that's why there are heroes, based around exactly such (Hercules, Samson, Thor, etc). Once upon a time, fitness was how people survived, and body toning was how people recognized fitness (thus why such is attractive).

    But none of that is the point, here. You might want to consider the possibility that nobody posed for this at all: that Botticelli did this off his head.

  5. That's a good point. With Renaissance or Greek art I suspect we would as well. We've looked for it in a few Rothko's and couldn't find it, though. Give it a try… let us know what you find.

  6. navel to heel navel to head… almost any human has that golden ration, not sure if that was intended on painting or just must, to make venus not to look stubid

  7. phi is encoded, inherently through the synodic cycle of venus…there is more to this piece of art hidden in symbolism…. the shell is a very obvious one…..h t t p : / / t i n y u r l . c o m / c j e u d w f

  8. Even if great artist operate in this sort of ways subconsciously can this knowledge be put in to replicating the results would it not consist a major part of an artist’s education?

  9. Interesting! However, among artists of the Renaissance there was a tendency to use the Pythagorean musical ratios 1:2:3:4 rather than phi. Phi was basically regarded as a mathematical knowledge (constructing some Platonic Solids, constructing a pentagon, etc.) that come directly from Euclid. Phi was not identified with beauty until a couple of centuries ago, whereas we find scores of Renaissance mentions of 1:2 octave, 2:3 perfect 5th, etc. Without finding constructions of the original square, its division into 1:2 or the swung arc, I doubt your theory except for the overall, and horizon, and people have phi in the body. My guess is some could be just 1:1.6 which is 5:8.

  10. 5:8 (1:1.6  is very close to Golden Mean) is the dominant 5th in music.
    1:1 is Unison, 1:2 is the Octave, 2:3 is the Perfect fifth, 3:4 is the Perfect Fourth, 5:4 is a third (however a third was considered a dissonant interval in Ancient musical scales), 8:9 is a tone and 15:16 a semi-tone. 

  11. I always find the right side of the painting more beautiful than the left. The wind god and his sister seem to have such a chunky relationship to the canvas and the other two figures. There's something off about their placement. :/ Otherwise, thanks for the great observations, as usual. 🙂

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