Chosen for Autumn 2014 PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE COLLECTION for Non-Fiction
Reprinted with additional material June 2020.
For 500 years the enigmatic Primavera has guarded its message. A chance discovery by the author of a disguised symbol, clearly visible in the painting, unlocked the secret of this famous Renaissance masterpiece. Painted in an age both violent and inspiring, the meaning of the Primavera throws open a window onto the extraordinary cryptic world of the Renaissance pagan revival.
Its pagan figures in a paradisiacal spring meadow illuminated the cryptic world of the Renaissance pagan revival. Botticelli’s allegory emerged to address its personal message directly to a young Medici, one of the known world’s richest young men. Botticelli’s cleverly disguised message for Lorenzo Minore, is to be found on the right side of La Primavera, where Chloris draws Zephyr’s attention to it.
This book is extremely well researched and beautifully produced with eighty colour plates, a full pull-out reproduction of La Primavera and numerous details from this and other Renaissance paintings. Lane-Spollen clearly explains the fusion of Christian and pagan imagery which is reflected in La Primavera, placing it in the wider context of the history, religion and politics of the period. The author employs a readable style which will make this book suitable for those familiar with this period looking for more detail about a beloved painting, and those who are new to the Renaissance and Art History.
Lane-Spollen gives a clear overview of why and how Botticelli conveyed his message in code: An esteemed circle of scholars around the Medici, disillusioned with a worldly and corrupted medieval Church, searched for a purer, unadulterated Christianity in the pre-Christian foundations of their faith. This was a dangerous occupation in a society where the reach of the Church was present in all matters public and private.
In 1460 a manuscript was brought to Cosimo de’Medici. Its author, Hermes, was revered by Augustine and the early Church Fathers. Its revelations on the true nature of Man held the evidence they were seeking and stood in stark contrast to the teachings of the medieval church and had no place for man as a lowly humble sinner who must throw himself on the mercy of the Church. Neoplatonism and the Hermetic corpus which so inspired the Medici circle, saw Man as unique among all species and possessing a “spark of the divine”. Though heretical and blasphemous in the extreme, this philosophy had a profound effect and spread rapidly. As Burckhardt noted, “it became the breath of life for all the most instructed minds of Europe”.
Convinced by its impeccable provenance, the Medici circle of philosophers and poets strived to merge the three great but competing religions, Judaism, Islam and Christianity, into a single religion in harmony with their original pre-Christian foundations. Expressing this newly discovered “God-like” being in art stimulated the creative imagination of the early Renaissance as artists like Botticelli, Leonardo, Michelangelo and Raphael strove to express “divine” Man’s dignity, his innate capability and the profound depths of his potential for greatness.
How the Discovery Came About, Introduction, Interpretations, A Very Private Location, The Medici – Violent Politics and Sublime Aspirations, Botticelli – Painter and Mystagogue, Classical Rebirth, First Encounter, A Madonna called Venus, The Esoteric Graces, A Medici as Mercury, Changing Natures, Cupid and the Bride, Flowery Language for a New Alliance, To Conclude, Appendices: Location and Dating, Poetry to Inspire a Painter, An Important Letter; Bibliography, Index.
Eugene Lane-Spollen, now retired from a senior management role in a multinational corporation, spends his time between Provence, the Far East, Ireland and Florence. He has devoted the last decade to researching the background to the subject.
“This was a delightful book to read and review. It is beautifully produced, with a large number of excellent colour photographs, together with a separate colour print of La Primavera included for reference. Throughout the book are close-ups of the parts of the picture under discussion, as well as a number of other works of art which are of interest. Not being a lover of art of this period, I was at first a little dubious as to whether I would find anything in it to excite me. I need not have worried.”
Rosemary Arthur, Faith and Freedom – Read more here.
“A thoroughly entertaining, page-turning experience! For all lovers of art, of history, of mystery, of beauty – this book is a gem. Immaculate research, exquisite writing.”
Amazon customer review – Read more here.
“An engaging book that should appeal to Botticelli scholars and to anyone drawn to this cultural period in Renaissance Florence.”
Gabrielle Langdon, Art Criticism Today – Read more here.
“Even if you are not normally drawn to books exploring the symbolism of art, you will be richly rewarded if you read this book. The thoughts and words expressed in it are not only inspiring and illuminating, but match the breadth and depth of the masterpiece itself. If Botticelli could paint a book, this might be it! … It is not a dry and cerebral study in brush strokes but like one of those Russian Nesting Dolls, it reveals worlds within worlds.”
Elizabeth Medler, New Vision