Thursday, July 17, 2008

Botticelli's Dismembered Zephyr

The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli c 1482 - 1486

Despite months of practice, I still have moments when I think I'll never be able to draw good. The other day, while I was copying the figure of Venus from that famous Botticelli painting - with a view to producing a piss-take of the image - I made a heartening discovery. Sandro Botticelli wasn't all that good at it either.

When you look at Botticelli's painting, your eye is drawn first to the central figure of Venus, then to the woman on the right (a Horae, according to Wikipedia), holding the robe. Then maybe you glance to the left, at the two winged Zephyrs. Give them more than a glance, and you'll find there's something very dodgy about the figure of the female Zephyr, tucked into the male Zephyr's armpit.
It's easier to see if you trace the main visible outlines and contours of the two figures separately, to disentangle those legs. Here's the male:
He's facing the right of the picture, with his right hand side is turned towards us. Now here's the female:
I've labeled her feet, as indicated by the position of the big toe on each. It's the first hint that there's something distinctly wrong with her anatomy. Just how wrong becomes clear if you try to fill in the gaps, by extending the line of the right thigh and the torso, which we're seeing from her left side. Her left arm is in the forground, with her right hand held over it; the right arm passes behind the male figure.

To start with, we'll need some guidelines:
The red lines indicate the major anatomical constraints on drawing her torso - the line of the shoulders, the spine and, in the 'arrowhead' to the left, key points of the pelvis - the juncture of the spine and sacrum, the left and right iliac crests and the pubic symphisis. The blue lines follow the major bones of the leg - the tibia from ankle to knee and the femur from the knee upwards. Neither of these lines hits the pelvis where it ought to. They could be made to hit the pelvis by shortening the length of the femur but that would still leave problems with the head and neck of the femur and the insertion of the femur into the hip socket.

To finish, here's a reconstruction of the torso and legs, using those red and blue lines as guides to the placement of the outlines.
Disturbing at so many levels.