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Journal > Volumes > 42 (2011) / 3 (Autumn)
Botticelli’s Return of Persephone: On the Source and Subject of the Primavera
Jonathan Kline
Tyler School of Art, Temple University

Most scholars, like Giorgio Vasari in the sixteenth century, have believed the central figure of Botticelli’s celebrated Primavera to be a manifestation of Venus, appearing as a goddess of spring. Careful studies of the history of Primavera scholarship and of the classical and Renaissance texts previously associated with the painting reveal the reasons for this belief, which has only tenuous support from the painting itself. This article proposes that another classical text, the Orphic Hymns, was the primary textual source for Botticelli’s painting, which is an allegory of spring, but has Persephone at its center, rather than Venus, and a change of Seasons—literally the Hora of Winter transforming into the Hora of Spring—where others have seen Chloris becoming Flora. The painting presents a cast of characters and a relationship of figures that is derived from the text of the Orphic Hymns and shares its invocative mode.

Pages: 665 - 688