"The Birth of Venus" by Sandro Botticelli

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

"Love: a temporary insanity, curable by marriage..."
- Ambrose Bierce


Of course it's obvious that this poem is somewhat of a love poem, expressing how beautiful this woman is that Lord Byron is looking at. She combines opposites (or extremes) in perfect proportions in her looks and in her personality. Whether it is a true declaration of love or a statement of admiration (of her beauty) is left to the reader, since it's known that this poem was about his cousin, Mrs. Wilmot, whom he met at a party in a mourning dress of spangled black.

The poem opens with a line that doens't have punctuation (enjambment): it runs over to the next. Not only that but the next line has a different kind of meter. Poets use this mechanism together with enjabment to attract attention to certain words. For example in the fourth line, the word "meet" is emphasized. It is an important word in the poem because it is the premise of the entire poem. Opposites "meet" in this woman. Just as enjabment and a change in meter are joined as mechanisms in this poem, the unlikely pair of darkness and light meet in this woman.
Also, this poem makes use of alliteration, the repeating of the first letter of a word to get an easy-reading effect. Look at the second line: "Of cloudless climes and starry skies."

Lord Byron describes a night (associated with darkness) with bright stars (light) and compares this woman to that night. She brings together these opposites in her beauty and creates a "tender light." Not a light like the daytime, since he describes that as gaudy (showy in a vulgar way), but a light that "heaven" doesn't even honor the daytime with.
Byron describes light and dark coming together in her appearance (or "aspect"), as in her dark hair ("tress") and the light complextion of her face. But her also says they meet in her eyes. The eyes are often associated with a person's soul, and reveal the heart. So he is suggesting that opposites meet in her soul as well.
Note also, that Byron says that if this darkness and lightness wouldn't be in the right proportions ("One shade the more, one ray the less"), her beauty wouldn't be completly ruined as you might expect. He says that she would only be "half impaired," and thus still half magnificent.


the artist:
Sandro Botticelli was a Florentine (Italian) painter, and well-known and succesfull during his career. The name "Botticelli" mean "little barrel" in Italian. It was originally the nickname of his older brother. For some reason it must have rubbed off on Sandro.
Although Botticelli's career was a succes, near the end of his life the High Renaissance style emerged and he was old news. He had no real followers except for the son of his own master. Botticelli died in obscurity but after his death his position returned when Ruskin and some Pre-Raphaelites announced interest in his works.

the painting:
It's clear from the title of the painting that it represents the birth of the goddess Venus. During the Renaissance in Italy, the people tried to recapture the glory of ancient Rome and mythology became very popular, even among the educated common folk. They were so convinced of the wisdom of the ancient Romans that they believed the myths must contain some profound truth.
The scenario of the painting is clear: Venus comes to life from a seashell and it brought to shore by wind-gods. An Hour or a Nymph is waiting for Venus to get to shore, and is ready to receive her with a robe.
Notice however that Venus' neck is strangely unnatural and her face is unproportionally small. Not only that but her shoulders are oddly steep, and her left arm is sort of pinned on to her body rather than being truly connected. Also, Botticelli goes against the style of the time by making the figures not solid models who are grounded, but rather outlined figures who float on the foreground.
But Botticelli uses these irregularities to emphasize her beauty. She is so beautiful you wouldn't even really notice the imperfections. Botticelli's composition also makes Venus seem extremly delicate and tender, like a true gift from Heaven.

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size: 36 in. x 47 in. price: $39.99
size: 28 in. x 22 in. price: $9.99
size: 23 in. x 29 in. price: $14.40
size: 26 in. x 38 in. price: $22.50
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Buy the detail poster of this masterpiece at Allposters.com!
size: 20 in. x 16 in. price: $10.80
size: 14 in. x 11 in. price: $5.40
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An online documentary of sorts, about the Romantics, the Pre-Raphaelites & the Bloomsbury Movements. Also with a complete page on Lord Byron and everyone who was in some way connected/ related to him. You'll be surprised how some authors and artists of that time knew eachother. This site doesn't have standard biographical info, but the good juicy gossipy stuff. It has a click-through system built in ("click here to continue"), that made me not able to stop reading. Very good site!
If you want to go directly to the Lord Byron page, it's here. Other wise (and the suggested thing to do) is to follow the link below. http://www.walrus.com/~gibralto/acorn/germ/index.html

Englishhistory.net: Lord Byron
Title of the page basically sums it up: a comprehensive study of his life and works.

George Gordon, Lord Byron
Page of the Arkansas State University English Department. Includes journals/letter excerpts, selected works and some bio info.

Selected poetry of George Gordon, Lord Byron
University of Toronto site with pretty extensive index to online poetry of Byron, but no additional info.

"A web site of fact andfiction George Gordon Lord Byron, 6th Baron Byron of Rochdale." Mostly under construction, but nonetheless worth mentioning.

Olga's Gallery: Alessandro Botticelli
Pretty large collection of his works, and most accompanied by some extra information.

Artchive: Sandro Botticelli
Probably best biographical information, with some images of his works as well.

Sandro Botticelli
California State University, Hayward, site about Botticelli, with some of his works, and a short biographical synopsis.

Webmuseum: Botticelli, Sandro
Biographical text, with links to his work. One of the better pages to find bio information.

Botticelli Room
"The Uffizi Gallery, founded in Florence in 1581, by the De Medici family, is one of the oldest museums in the world. The Web guide contains pictures, comments, biographies and a glossary of artistic movements and techniques."

The Corpse of Lord Byron
Yes, this is a webpage about the corpse of Lord Byron, and all the things that happened with it after Byron himself had no more use for it.

Astrocartography of Lord Byron
A web page about Lord Byron's astrological details. There are just some weird people out there with too much time on their hands, that's all I have to say about that.

Bar Lord Byron
Cafe/bar in Portugal, named after the man himself. They serve up cocktails with poetry by Byron on their site.

Hotel Botticelli Maastricht
Hotel in Maastricht, the Netherlands, named after the artist.

Hotel Lord Byron
Hotel in Rome, named after you-know-who. Apparently very fancy hotel.

Botticelli Interactive
Multimedia company in Boston, MA.

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