In Poor Richard's Almanack, Benjamin Franklin wrote: “Beauty, like supreme dominion, is but supported by opinion.” The perception of beauty in the past few decades has been dominated by the physical appearance of highly paid and praised supermodels. However, the factors determining beauty have been argued among men and women for centuries.
One of the first praised beauties was Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci, the most charming woman of the Renaissance who became the model for Botticelli’s painting “The Birth of Venus.” She was born in PortoVenere, a town in Northern Italy named after Venus. This was a remarkable coincidence since Simonetta was the inspiration for Botticelli’s masterpiece. She became an icon of beauty, despite her life being abruptly cut short at the age of twenty-two after contracting tuberculosis. Botticelli painted one of her several portraits, which have never been recovered. On that painting, the artist wrote the inscription “La Sans Pareille” or “the unparalleled one.” The portrait was rewarded to Giuliano Medici, the winner of the jousting tournament held in Florence in 1475, who named Simonetta “The Queen of Beauty.”
Art critics have debated the authenticity of her portraits and whether her beauty was enhanced for Botticelli’s paintings. We will never know what Simonetta truly looked like, but we do know that her image inspired an entire nation and changed the public’s perception of beauty.
You can admire the beauty of a supermodel, whoever she may be, possibly visiting the Galleria Uffizi where “The Birth of Venus” is on display along with other masterpieces of the Renaissance period.
The “Galleria degli Uffizi” web site can be found at https://www.uffizi.it/en