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  • #BotticelliSpringMarathon

    A virtual exhibition on the construction of the contemporary Botticelli myth through social media

  • 1/17
    1. Running the world 1/2

    How did the worldwide myth of Botticelli come about in our time?


    Today the most important museums in the world house works by Sandro Botticelli that often constitute the most representative icons of their collections, unmissable highlights that attract thousands of visitors every year. A quick glance at the gallery of images tweeted by the most important international museums render the idea of how the Florentine master’s works are to be found in every corner of the globe. Yet the consecration of Botticelli as the artistic genius of all time is relatively recent and certainly modern, and deserves a brief investigation if only because it allows us to better understand how this “Botticelli mania” came about in our time, marking the beginnings of an across-the-board icon in vastly different fields, from academia to popular culture, from pop to trash to commercial, to the standardized and out-of-context use of Botticelli’s masterpieces typical of the post-modern age. 

    In 1877 the poet and literary critic John Addington Symonds wrote: “In the last century and the beginning of this, our present preoccupation with Botticelli would have passed for mild lunacy, because he has none of the qualities then most in vogue and most enthusiastically studied, and because the moment in the history of culture he so faithfully repreents, was then but little understood” (in M. Evans – S. Weppelmann eds., Botticelli Reimagined, London: V&A Publishing, 2016, p.56)”. And he was right if in 1774 the painter Henry Fuseli wrote that Botticelli was an artist endowed with “barbarous taste and dry minuteness” (ib., p.58) and only capable of  “puerile ostentation” (ibid.).

    The “discovery” of Botticelli and the roots of the creation of the contemporary myth are in fact an entirely nineteenth-century story, which began in England thanks mainly to the Confraternity of Pre-Raphaelites. Think of the exceptionally good deal Dante Gabriel Rossetti got when he bought a portrait of a woman by Botticelli for just 20 pounds from Christie’s! The admiration for the Maestro Rossetti studied, exalted and almost imitated – is evident in a conspicuous part of his pictorial and literary production (like the 1880 sonnet “For Spring” he wrote). All this contributed to spreading the fame of the Florentine artist as a model of “purity” within the circle of Pre-Raphaelites painters; that is, an interpreter of sublime and “primitive” painting unfortunately obscured, in their opinion, by the advent of the Renaissance and the academic styles which they say decreed the end of the authentic and immediate relationship between painting and nature, beauty and reality.

  • 2/17
    1. Running the world 2/2

    Thus Botticelli’s fame grew exponentially even outside the narrow circle of the Pre-Raphaelites and spread to France, Italy and Germany, and was finally consecrated at the academic level by the critic Aby Warburg in his famous and fundamental 1893 essay Botticelli. From here even temporal borders were overcome and the twentieth century arrived, with another critical milestone that “restored” Botticelli to a place among the most important masters of the Renaissance. Bernard Berenson, in his 1900 “Florentine Painters of the Renaissance” defines him as a “timeless and irresistible, and even life-enhancing” artist (ib., pp.69-70).

    However, Botticelli was destined to become a contemporary icon right from the beginning of the century. Very soon he was borrowed from academia to become a “revolutionary” icon in an attempt by the Dada movement between the two World Wars to challenge all the rules, conventions and academic pigeon holes. The emblem of anti-art, Botticelli marks the return to a “beautiful form and a beautiful consciousness” (ibid.), as one of the founders of the movement Francis Picabia wrote in 1927. A position that marks an interesting change in the perception of the Florentine master, who is no longer perceived only as a great artist appreciated by experts and lovers of art; a sign that the times were already ripe for handing him over to the culture of the second half of the twentieth century, that is, ready for popular consumption, specifically the pop art and even anti-academic movements. This story then crosses the ocean and is written mainly in America, a story you can read in detail in section (7) dedicated to the birth of the “Botticelli phenomenon” as a pop icon of the twenty-first century.

  • 3/17
    2. Spring at home 1/2

    What are the implications of taking a photograph, especially if its subjects are people?


    Roland Barthes: “I observed that a photograph can be the object of three practices (or of three emotions, or of three intentions): to do, to undergo, to look. The Operator is the Photographer.

    The Spectator is ourselves, all of us who glance through collections of photographs — in magazines and newspapers, in books, albums, archives… And the person or thing photographed is the target, the referent, a kind of little simulacrum, any eidolon emitted by the object, which I should like to call the Spectrum of the Photograph, because this word retains, through its root, a relation to "spectacle"[…].The portrait-photograph is a closed field of forces. Four image-repertoires intersect here, oppose and distort each other. In front of the lens, I am at the same time: the one I think I am, the one I want others to think I am, the one the photographer thinks I am, and the one he makes use of to exhibit his art. In other words, a strange action: I do not stop imitating myself, and because of this, each time I am (or let myself be) photographed, I invariably suffer from a sensation of inauthenticity, sometimes of imposture (comparable to certain nightmares) . In terms of image-repertoire, the Photograph (the one I intend) represents that very subtle moment when, to tell the truth, I am neither subject nor object but a subject who feels he is becoming an object: I then experience a micro-version of death (of parenthesis): I am truly becoming a specter. The Photographer knows this very well, and himself fears…this death in which his gesture will embalm me.[…]. I decided then to take as a guide for my new analysis the attraction I felt for certain photographs. For of this attraction, at least, I was certain. What to call it? Fascination? No, this photograph which I pick out and which I love has nothing in common with the shiny point which sways before your eyes and makes your head swim; what it produces in me is…something more like an internal agitatin, an excitement, a certain labor too, the pressure of the unspeakable which wants to be spoken. Well, then? Interest? Of brief duration… So it seemed that the best word to designate (temporarily) the attraction certain photographs exerted upon me was advenimce or even adventure. This picture advenes, that one doesn't. The principle of adventure allows me to make Photography exist. Conversely, without adventure, no photograph. I quote Sartre: "Newspaper photographs can very well 'say nothing to me.' In other words, I look at them without assuming a posture of existence… They drift between the shores of perception, between sign and image, without ever approaching either." In this glum desert, suddenly a specific photograph reaches me; it animates me, and I animate it. So that is how I must name the attraction which makes it exist: an animation. The photograph itself is in no way animated ( I do not believe in "lifelike" photographs), but it animates me: this is what creates every adventure.” (Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida. Reflections on Photography [1979], translated by Richard Howard, New York, Will & Hang, 2014, pp.9 ff.).

  • 4/17
    2. Spring at home 2/2

    Remo Ceserani: “The individual, represented and reproduced by the technology of images, turns into an icon and a representation of himself, becomes a fictitious character, enters into a novel or a film, and may from that novel and that film pass into another novel or film or return to the world of lived reality.” (Remo Ceserani, Narrating Postmodernism, 1997).

  • 5/17
    3. Digital Botticelli 1/2

    Why “digitalize” a work of art with a photograph?


    Walter Benjamin: “The desire of the present-day masses to “get closer” to things, and their equally passionate concern for overcoming each thing's uniqueness by assimilating it as a reproduction. And the reproduction…differs unmistakably from the image. Uniqueness and permanence are as closely entwined in the latter as are transitoriness and repeatability in the former. […]. In our age there is no work of art that is looked at so closely as a photograph of oneself, one’s closest relatives and friends, one’s sweetheart”, wrote Lichtwark back in 1907, thereby moving the inquiry out of the realm of aesthetic distinctions into that of social functions. […]. But the emphasis changes completely if we turn from photography-as-art to art-as-photography. Everyone will have noticed how much easier it is to get hold of a painting, more particularly a sculpture, and especially architecture, in a photograph than in reality. It is all too tempting to blame this squarely on the decline of artistic appreciation, on a failure of contemporary sensibility. But one is brought up short by the way the understanding of great works was transformed at about the same time the techniques of reproduction were being developed. Such works can no longer be regarded as the products of individuals; they have become a collective creation, a corpus so vast it can be assimilated only through miniaturization. In the final analysis, mechanical reproduction is a technique of diminution that helps people to achieve control over works of art— a control without whose aid they could no longer be used.” (Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, translated by E. Jephcott and others, Cambridge, Mass., The Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 2008, p. 23; and Id., Little History of Photography, translated by R. Livingstone and others, Cambridge, Mass., The Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 1999, p.520ff.).


    What makes us take, and then share, a photo of Botticelli's Spring?

    Roland Barthes: “I imagine… that the essential gesture of the Operator is to surprise something or someone (through rhe little hole of the camera)… From this gesture derive all photographs whose principle (or better, whose ailibi) is "shock"; for the photographic "shock"…consists less in traumatizing than in revealing what was so well hidden that the actor himself was unaware or unconscious of it. Hence a whole gamut of "surprises" (as they are for me, the Spectator; but for the Photographer, these are so many "performances").The first surprise is that of the "rare" (rarity of the referent, of course) […]. The second surprise is one habitual to Painting, which has frequently reproduced a gesture apprehended at the point in its course where the normal eye cannot arrest it… The third surprise is that of prowess [of the photographer]… A fourth surprise is the one which the photographer looks for from the contortions of technique: superimpressions, anamorphoses, deliberate exploitation of certain defects (blurring, deceptive perspectives, trick framing)…Fifth type of surprise: the trouvaille or lucky find… In an initial period, Photography, in order to surprise, photographs the notable; but soon , by a familiar reversal, it decrees notable whatever it photographs. […]. If we except the realm of Advertising, where the meaning must be clear and distinct only by reason of a mercantile nature, the semiology of Photography is therefore limited to the admirable performances of several portraitists. For the rest, with regard to the heterogeneity of "good" photographs, all we can say is that the object speaks, it induces us, vaguely, to think. And further: even this risks being perceived as dangerous. […]. Ultimately, Photography is subversive not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks.” (Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida. Reflections on Photography [1979], translated by. Richard Howard, New York, Will & Hang, 2014, pp. 32 ff.).

  • 6/17
    3. Digital Botticelli 2/2

    In what sense is photographing the person taking a photo of a work of art - or themselves in front of the work - a typical example of contemporary language or “metalanguage”?


    Roland Barthes: “The intertext is a field of anonymous formulae whose origin is rarely recoverable, of unconscious or automatic citations without speech marks. Epistemologically, the concept of intertext is what brings to the theory of the text the volume of sociality (Roland Barthes, Theory of Text [1973], in M. Orr ed., 2003, p.39ff.).

    “TEXT means TISSUE; but whereas hitherto we have always considered this tissue as a product, a ready-made veil, behind which lies truth, we are now emphasizing, in the tissue, the generative idea that the text is made, is worked out in a perpetual interweaving; lost in this tissue — this texture — the subject unmakes himself, like a spider dissolving in the constructive secretions of its web." (Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text [1973], tr. R. Miller, New York, Hill & Went, 1975, p. 64).

  • 7/17
    4. Botticelli Reloaded 1/2

    Can “quoting” the original Botticelli’s Spring with irony, creating new images with digital graphics software be considered to be a typical example of contemporary aesthetics?


    Umberto Eco: “The postmodern reply to the modern consists of recognizing that the past, since it cannot really be destroyed, because its destruction leads to silence, must be revisited: but with irony, not innocently. I think of the postmodern attitude as that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows that he cannot say to her ‘I love you madly’, because he knows that she knows (and that she knows he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland. Still, there is a solution. He can say ‘As Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly’. At this point, having avoided false innocence, having said clearly that it is no longer possible to speak innocently, he will nevertheless have said what he wanted to say to the woman: that he loves her in an age of lost innocence. If the woman goes along with this, she will have received a declaration of love all the same. Neither of the two speakers will feel innocent, both will have accepted the challenge of the past, of the already said, which cannot be eliminated; both will consciously and with pleasure play the game of irony… But both will have succeeded, once again, in speaking of love.” (Umberto Eco, Reflections on The Name of the Rose, trans. by William Weaver, London: Minerva, 1994, pp.67-68).

  • 8/17
    4. Botticelli Reloaded 2/2

    Ernst Gombrich: “The image, it might be said, has no firm anchorage left on the canvas — it is only "conjured up" in our minds. The willing beholder responds to the artist's suggestion because he enjoys the transformation that occurs in front of his eyes. It was in this enjoyment that a new function of art emerged gradually and all but unnoticed during the period we have discussed. The artist gives the beholder increasingly "more to do," he draws him into the magic circle of creation and allows him to experience something of the thrill of "making" which had once been the privilege of the artist. It is the turning point which leads to those visual conundrums of twentieth-century art that challenge our ingenuity and make us search our own minds for the unexpressed and inarticulate.” (E. H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion, A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation, London: Phaidon Press, 1960, p.169).

  • 9/17
    5. Botticelli Attack 1/2

    What transforms a work like Botticelli’s Spring into a contemporary “fetish” – in an anthropological sense – the object of “veneration”, of use and consumption, sometimes of emulation and often a source of inspiration?


    Pierre Bourdieu: “The producer of the value of the work of art is not the artist but the field of production as a universe of belief which produces the value of the work of art as a fetish by producing the belief in the creative power of the artist. Given that the work of art does not exist as a symbolic object endowed with value unless it is known and recognized - that is to say, socially instituted as a work of art by spectators endowed with the aesthetic disposition and competence necessary to know it and recognize it as such - the science of works takes as object not only the material production of the work but also the production of the value of the work or, what amounts to the same thing, of the belief in the value of the work. It must therefore take into account not only the direct producers of the work in its materiality (artist, writer, etc.), but also the ensemble of agents and institutions which participate in the production of the value of the work via the production of the belief in the value of art in general and in the distinctive value of this or that work of art.” (Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art, trans. by S. Emanuel, Stanford: Stanford UP, 1995, p. 229).

  • 10/17
    5. Botticelli Attack 2/2

    Luciano Fabro: “Art as a spectacle has the ability to exorcise, to have a cathartic effect in respect of the artistic intervention, which presents itself as an external event, allowing us to free ourselves of the responsibility we all have to regenerate ourselves through our art.” (Luciano Fabro, Art Returns to Art, 1999).

  • 11/17
    6. Springspired 1/2

    In what sense can quoting, fragmenting, dismantling and recomposing, freely associating impressions related to Botticelli’s Spring in order to “describe it” from a personal point of view, be considered to be the characteristic traits of post-modern culture?


    Jean-François Lyotard: “Postmodern knowledge is not simply a tool of the authorities.; it refines our sensitivity to differences and reinforces our ability to tolerate the incommensurable. […]. Narration is the quintessential form of customary knowledge […]. A quick analysis…reveals the following: the narrator's only claim to competence for telling the story is the fact that he has heard it himself. The current narratee gains potential access to the same authority simply by listening. […]. A culture that gives precedence to the narrative form doubtless has no more of a need for special procedures to authorize its narratives than it has to remember its past. […]. That is what the postmodern world is all about. Most people have lost the nostalgia for the lost narrative. It is no way follows that they are reduced to barbarity. What saves them from it is their knowledge that legitimation can only spring from their own linguistic practice and communicational interaction. […]. Postmodern science - by concerning itself with such things as undecidables, the limits of precise control, conflicts characterized by incomplete information , "fracta," catastrophes, and pragmatic paradoxes - is theorizing its own evolution as discontinuous, catastrophic, nonrectifiable, and paradoxical. It is changing the meaning of the word knowledge, while expressing how such a change can take place. It is producing not the known, but the unknown. And it suggests a model of legitimation that has nothing to do with maximized performance, but has as its basis difference.” ( Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition [1979], trans. by G.Bennington – B.Massumi, Manchester: Manchester UP, 1984, pp. xxv, 19, 20, 22, 41, 60).

    Remo Ceserani: “The subject in post-modern culture is the product of language, of a “story”, and, therefore, of a construction, an artifice subjected to the same conventions that renounce the idea of authority, unity, truth, the absolute. A subject that is decentralized, multiplied and fragmented by its very existence and experience of daily life, of time and history. Citation, pastiche, the mixture of codes and signs, collage, are all examples of daily practices that increasingly define the taste and aesthetics of  contemporary man, who however, as David Harvey reveals in The Condition of Postmodernity in 1989, accepts the signs of discontinuity and chaos without trying to surpass or combat them, and renounces the definition of “eternal and unchangeable” floating on and even splashing about in the fragmentary currents of change as if that were all there was. In this temporal and historical crisis, a “ubiquitous, omnivorous and almost libidinal historicism, works to reduce the past to a museum of photographs and collection of clippings of images and likenesses, Liebig or Panini figurines, manipulating it. Therefore, history and the past are transformed into a market, exchanged and consumed. The present becomes immersive, as Jameson says, colonized by ‘nostalgia’.” (Remo Ceserani, Narrating Postmodernism, 1997).

  • 12/17
    6. Springspired 2/2

    Umberto Eco: “We need to ask ourselves what and how many are the reasons why we long to see an original painting: (1) its subject, (2) its sizes ... (3) its colours. Finally (4) the way the material has been laid on the canvas or the panel. [...]. And then (5) the paintings...that need to be looked at from sideways... Now the current techniques of reproduction allow to reproduce a painting... absolutely faithful to the original as to subject and sizes, and almost identical as to chromatic effects. Therefore the reproduction allows to enjoy items (1), (2) and (3), subject, real sizes and colour of the painting. What it can not give us are items (4) and (5), namely the clumps of color’s three-dimensionality and the sideways vision... Yet in a museum we usually have to see the painting at a safe distance and we are not allwed to touch it. Hence items (4) and (5) are not really experienced by the visitor (and I speak of the keen one, neglecting those who go running and feel rewarded just by having received a generic impression). If we then consider a painting displayed in a church, above its high altar or in a side chapel, usually the visitor can glimpse very little of it in the shadow of the temple. Alternatively, if he wishes to fully enjoy it, he later returns to examine it on a good reproduction”. (Umberto Eco, The Third Millennium Museum, paper given at the Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao on 25th June 2001).

  • 13/17
    7. Krash 1/2

    When and how did the contemporary Botticelli myth as a “brand” come about?


    Roland Barthes: “Myth is a type of speech. Of course, it is not any type… But what must be firmly established at the start is that myth is a system of communication, that it is a message. This allows one to perceive that myth cannot possibly be an object, a concept, or an idea; it is a mode of signification, a form. Later, we shall have to assign to this form historical limits, conditions of use, and reintroduce society into it: we must nevertheless first describe it as a form… since myth is a type of speech, everything can be a myth provided it is conveyed by a discourse. Myth is not defined by the object of its message, but by the way in which it utters this message: there are formal limits to myth, there are no 'substantial' ones. Everything, then, can be a myth? Yes, I believe this, for the universe is infinitely fertile in suggestions. Every object in the world can pass from a closed, silent existence to an oral state, open to appropriation by society, for there is no law, whether natural or not, which forbids talking about things.” (Roland Barthes, Myth Today [1957], in Mythologies, trans. A. Lavers, New York: The Noonday Press, 1991, p. 107).

    The definition of contemporary myth in the famous essay by Barthes makes it easier to understand the significance of the language and the meaning which is attributed to Botticelli when he is defined as a myth or icon or fetish of our times. It is related to consumer society – according to Barthes it is also related to ideology – and it represents, above all, a “system of communication”, and is the bearer of a message. It is no coincidence the “today’s myths” have been, since the 1950s, sanctified mainly in the advertising field that has created famous “brands” or more simply “objects” of consumption, real symbols of a historical period, the mirror of an era.

    The name Botticelli (and therefore the “word”, as Barthes would say, even before the work itself) has been subject to the same mechanisms of creating contemporary myths as brands. It is worth, as the French semiologist suggests, defining the historical limitations of this phenomenon in order to give it shape and locate it in time. When did “Botticelli mania” start – understood as a brand – that phenomenon that has turned the images of The Spring or the Birth Venus into gadgets and that have influenced fashion and customs even to the point of becoming an allegory of current events or news reports? As mentioned in the introduction, this is a story that was written mainly, at least initially, in the United States.

    At the 1939 Expo in New York Salvador Dalì exhibited a reproduction of the famous Uffizi masterpiece entitled “The Dream of Venus”. He devoted an entire room to the copy. Visitors were immediately attracted by the iconic image, and the fortunes that until that moment had accompanied the “rediscovery” of Botticelli in Europe quickly took hold in American too. Very soon endless queues formed just to see the Botticellian Venus. MoMa had to extend its opening hours and in 74 days the exhibition welcomed 290,000 visitors, encouraged by the media that talked almost exclusively about the Venus. The city was soon covered in posters. The 1940s doubtless mark the beginnings of Botticelli’s mass media rise on a global scale.

    Contemporary American artists provided a considerable thrust toward this goal. They were strongly influenced by references to the poetics and art of the Florentine master, some in a more underground way – especially from a stylistic point of view – some in a more marked way – from the point of view of the general theme; from the subtext in the abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock and Marc Rothko, to the hypotext exhibited and celebrated in more recent artists such as Andy Warhol, Bill Viola, photographer Cindy Sherman, Brice Marden, David LaChapelle. They all are authors of fabulous remakes of Botticelli’s masterpieces that have taken the Master’s fame as a contemporary icon beyond the borders of America. This has turned Botticelli into a “world heritage”, a process also witnessed by more problematic and committed interpretations by artists such as the Chinese Yin Xin with his Asian Venus and the question of Western cultural hegemony (2008) or Nguyen Xuan Huy who sees Botticelli as a medium to represent the post-traumatic experiences produced by the war in Vietnam (2009) and the Japanese Tomoko Nagao who, a lover of pop culture, made the Venus into a video game icon playing in a consumer’s world just like other famous brands and logos for food and worldwide transportation companies (2012).

    From the 1940s to the 2010s, in this period of about 70 years, in contemporary artists’ minds Botticelli has clearly gone from originally being a more or less occult subtext to gradually being a hypotext or else a mise en abyme (André Gide thus defined the endless game of mirrors and references between meta-texts, “texts that refer to other texts”). In other words, it is in this very period that the idolatry of Botticelli has turned from the admiration for “the Master” as a mere conveyor of a contemporary message to the celebration of his most iconic works – such as the Birth of Venus and The Spring – intended as models of standardized femininity that quickly became very popular, especially in the field of fashion. This is why in this very period it is possible to notice the shift from, for example, the Botticelli Girls photographs by Maggie Diaz, who in 1954 portrayed socially marginalized girls in the outskirts of Chicago, to the more ephemeral floral decorations inspired by The Spring that adorned Alexander McQueen’s clothes (2007). The same shift that has occurred from the late 1930s models of fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, who looked closely at Botticelli’s women’s garments - even at their cut as well as their allegorical meanings - to pop artist Alain Jacquet who, in his 1963/64 Camouflage Botticelli, was less interested in the art of the Master as a painter rather praising the value of his works as “logos”, with the shell of the Birth of Venus that has become the “Shell” of a well-known oil company. And so on, from the homages to “Botticelli the artist” by Magritte, Tamara De Limpicka, Dalì and many other twentieth-century artists to the citations of the “Botticelli brand” as a style icon in recent fashion shows in London in 2013 (where a well-known Italian house proposed Venus patchwork on clothing) or in the cover image designed by Jeff Koons for the launch, again in 2013, of the CD of a famous pop singer that explicitly recalls details of Botticelli’s masterpiece.

    In this metonymic exchange between the artist and the work, between the content and the container, in the 70 years in which the affirmation of post-modern culture took place, the new “sensitivity” that was soon picked up on by refined critics and scholars of contemporary society from the end of the 1960s, from Leslie Fiedler to Susan Sontag, it is immediately clear that the distinctive feature of “post culture” is the removal of barriers between “high art” and “popular art”, between the top and the bottom, between elitism and the pop phenomenon. This trend definitively consigns Botticelli to the universal icons, cross cutting the most diverse fields of art, knowledge, economy, criticism…including daily life, in the characteristic fluidity of borders that marks most of the culture of our time.

  • 14/17
    7. Krash 2/2

    Susan Sontag: “This new sensibility is rooted, as it must be, in our experience, experiences which are new in the history of humanity – in extreme social and physical mobility; in the crowdedness of the human scene (both people and material commodities multiplying at a dizzying rate); in the availability of new sensatons such as speed (physical speed, as in airplane travel; speed of images, as in the cinema); and in the pan-cultural perspective on the arts that is possible through the mass reproduction of art objects.” (Susan Sontag, One culture and the new sensibility [1965] in Id., Against Interpretation and Other Essays, New York: Picador, 2001, p.296).

  • 15/17
    8. One Botticelli does not mean it’s Spring 1/2

    The Spring or the Birth of Venus? Self-deprecating conclusions of an exhibition or new ways of enjoying art? What are the advantages of a virtual, digital exhibition dedicated to a single work of art?


    Umberto Eco: “My ideal is a museum that helps people to understand and enjoy a single painting (or a single statue, or even a single salt cellar by Cellini). Let’s take Botticelli’s Spring as an example. The whole sequence of rooms of the Uffizi should be turned into a single path through which one reaches the end with complete understanding of The Spring […]. Valery was right. Too many artworks, different from one another, fatally out of context, strain my eyes and my mind as well. Instead a visit to a museum that leads me literally “inside” a single artwork would make that visit memorable as it is when in Amsterdam I go to see only one painting by Saenredam since I already know its history and origin. And if the fetishistic tourist should complain that he has made so long a journey to see just one work, worse for him. Yet even the worst fetishist could not help but contemplating one single fetish at a time if only he were given complete information about its history, sense and fortune. […].


  • 16/17
    8. One Botticelli does not mean it’s Spring 2/2


    Immediately after the loan of The Spring, the Uffizi Gallery could design an arrangement around another of its wonders. Moreover, with a gallery that changes from season to season, Florence would become worthy of being revisited many times, right as we go several times to Salzburg or Bayreuth to listen to always different works by Mozart and Wagner, in different executions. [...]. My Third Millennium Museum would always be new, always able to offer me new surprises. [...]. If the Utopia I have outlined so far seems impossible to you, be quiet. I have given my paper the title of “Third Millennium Museum”, and before this millennium ends, we still have 999 years left. It is enough to see - and I hope to be there - a utopia achieved.” (Umberto Eco, The Third Millennium Museum, paper given at the Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao on 25th June 2001).

  • 17/17
    Works cited

    Roland Barthes, Myth Today [1957], in Mythologies, trans. A. Lavers, New York: The Noonday Press, 1991

    Roland Barthes, Theory of Text [1973], in M. Orr ed., 2003

    Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text [1973], tr. R. Miller, New York, Hill & Went, 1975

    Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida. Reflections on Photography [1979], translated by. Richard Howard, New York, Will & Hang, 2014

    Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, translated by E. Jephcott and others, Cambridge, Mass., The Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 2008

    Walter Benjamin, Little History of Photography, translated by R. Livingstone and others, Cambridge, Mass., The Belknap Press of Harvard UP, 1999

    Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art, trans. S. Emanuel, Stanford: Stanford UP, 1995

    Remo Ceserani, Narrating Postmodernism, 1997 (unpublished in English).

    Umberto Eco, Reflections on The Name of the Rose; trans. William Weaver, London: Minerva, 1994

    Umberto Eco, The Third Millennium Museum, paper given at the Guggenheim Museum of Bilbao on 25th June 2001

    Mark Evans – Stefan Weppelmann eds., Botticelli Reimagined, London: V&A Publishing, 2016

    Luciano Fabro, Art returns to Art, 1999 (unpublished in English)

    Ernst H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion, A Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation, London: Phaidon Press, 1960

    Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition [1979], trans. by G.Bennington – B.Massumi, Manchester: Manchester UP, 1984

    Susan Sontag, “One culture and the new sensibility” [1965]  in Ib., Against Interpretation and Other Essays, New York: Picador, 2001.


A virtual exhibition on the construction of the contemporary Botticelli myth through social media

On 21 March 2018 the Department of Digital Communication of the Uffizi Galleries launched an international campaign on Twitter entitled #BotticelliSpringMarathon in which they invited  their followers and the most important museums in the world that preserve works by Botticelli to share a spring greeting on the Uffizi profile in recognition of the great Florentine master’s art. The initiative was associated with a photographic competition, a one-week digital marathon where Uffizi visitors and online users from all over the world were asked to send their “own” visions of one of the most iconic works of the museum’s collection, the subject of genuine veneration, to @UffiziGalleries: Botticelli's Spring. In a few hours the campaign went viral, social and print media were abuzz, it spread around the world, boasting the participation of important museums that decided to pay homage to the Uffizi’s initiative by posting details associated with Spring from the masterpieces by Botticelli they preserve: the Louvre, the Prado, the National Gallery in London, the Puškin Museum, the Hermitage, the National Gallery in Edinburgh, the Isabella Stewart-Gardner Museum, the Museum of Houston, the Museum of Strasbourg and the Italian Poldi Pezzoli and Giorgio Cini Foundation were museums that responded with enthusiasm and sympathy to the Uffizi “digital Spring festival”.


1. Running the world 

All the tweets from the Italian and international museums and galleries that took part in the social campaign are visible in the first section of this Hypervision entitled “Running the world”, while the more interesting users’ photos selected from the contest are grouped according to theme in the following seven sections. To be immediately redirected to this section’s contents please click on the paragraph’s title.

2. Spring at home

The first chapter is dedicated to photos taken by visitors directly in front of the work, in the gallery. From the point of view of semiotics and communications theory, as will be shown in more detail, these shots are united by their “spectrum”, in accordance with the definition Roland Barthes provides in Camera Lucida. They are images in which the focus, with all the sign and meaning implications that ensue, is on the act of immortalizing the subject of the photograph and then analysing the emotional effects on the spectator, that is the last “user” of the photograph, the observer in a subsequent step.

3. Digital Botticelli

The third section entitled “Digital Botticelli” is still connected to the theme of photography but is more focused on the intentions and motives of the Barthesian “operator” this time, that is, the person who takes the picture, its author. It provides the opportunity for a broader consideration, that Walter Benjamin identified as inherent to the transformation of the work of art into an object of consumption, typical of the technological age. The use of the photograph of a masterpiece as a metalanguage or, as Roland Barthes put it, “intertext” (“I take a photo of the person taking a photo of Botticelli's Spring or of myself with a selfie”) made possible by the widespread and now standardized use of digital devices, often mobile phones and other devices rather than cameras, which have become widely used as virtual message boards ready for sharing on social networks or as albums of instantaneous memories that can be edited in real time.

4. Botticelli Reloaded

From digital technology to digital art, the fourth section leaves the field open to users and their free, ironical and post-modern reinterpretations of Botticelli’s masterpiece, using software for the processing of digital images.

5. Botticelli Attack

And still on the theme of free creativity, taking inspiration from art as a sort of “game”, the fifth section is a collection of photos by people who, in imitation or in fun, have paid homage to The Spring, confirming, if that is still necessary, how much Botticelli has really penetrated – and is still strongly present in – popular contemporary culture, to the point of inducing many critics to speak of a veritable “fetish” of our times, in an anthropological sense. The history of the creation of the contemporary Botticelli myth is intriguing. It began in England in the middle of the nineteenth century, at the end of the Georgian age, and was fuelled, some ten years later in Victorian times by the Confraternity of Pre-Raphaelites, marking the turning point and arriving in the United States between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with a domino effect involving the whole of Europe. Here perhaps the first “pop” turning point took place for the Florentine genius in the 1940s, and spread into contemporary culture through typical twentieth-century media: photography, fashion (understood as a mass phenomenon) and above all video.

6. Springspired

Quoting, dismantling, fragmenting, dismembering and reconstructing, even cannibalizing the surroundings – as well as the idea – are all hallmarks of contemporary culture, as had already been perfectly intuited by the pioneer of reflection on the “post-modern condition”, Jean-François Lyotard and, in Italy, Umberto Eco, who among others defined this phenomenon perfectly. Not even Botticelli's Spring seems to escape these dynamics or the desire of followers to build semantic networks of hypertext around it in accordance with their own codes of communication, which by no coincidence are those of the internet. The sixth chapter of the Hypervision investigates this link, based on the suggestions of the philosopher and the semiologist: “Springspired”.

7. Krash

The seventh section looks at the selection of The Spring as a true mass media icon of our time, an image so deeply rooted in the contemporary world view to become not only an anthropological fetish but an object of daily consumption, proof of the confirmation in twenty-first century pop culture of the process of transformation of art into consumer goods: the transformation of Botticelli into a “brand”.  

8. One Botticelli does not mean it’s Spring

The name Botticelli has become so “branded” worldwide that quite a few followers have even rendered the two absolute icons of the Florentine master interchangeable in a free and unstoppable association of ideas (or stream of consciousness?) by superimposing the idea of The Spring onto the idea of the Birth of Venus. Perhaps this is because both imply the generation of new, positive forces related to nature, because both have the same strong “nature” element just as both have the same aesthetic and erotic principle embodied by Venus; those principles that in any case reside in an idealized vision of femininity... or perhaps because the name Botticelli alone has become an “umbrella brand” that brings together and represents the individual “brands”.  In any case, no error is ever random, no slip is devoid of meaning and we would like to dedicate the last section of this Hypervision - that, with equal irony, we have called “One Botticelli does not mean it’s Spring” - to these more or less conscious and ironic “errors” made by followers who “thought of” The Spring but “said” Venus.


A project by Simone Rovida in collaboration with Claudio di Giuseppe and the Department of Digital Strategies of the Uffizi Galleries

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