La Primavera (ca. 1482) by Sandro Botticelli
La Primavera (Spring) by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) is a tempera on wood panel measuring 203 x 314 cm. It currently is on display at the Galleria degli, Uffizi Museum, Florence, Italy. The painting was commissioned by Lorenzo de' Medici for his country home, the Villa di Castello, in about 1478. Until its restoration in 1982, the painting had long been dulled and darkened by surface dirt. Now the original color and vibrancy of the work is once again evident.
It should be noted that Botticelli was purported to have been the grandmaster of the secret society known as the Priory of Sion from the year 1483 until his death in 1510.
Art Historian Interpretation:
The following is a description of the painting by art historian Susan Legouix from her book Botticelli (first published in 1979), page 115:
As in two of the Sistine frescoes the theme (it can hardly be called narrative) reads from right to left. The impetus is given by Zephyr who blows from the right. On the left, Mercury, associated with the month of May, turns as if to indicate the passage of spring towards summer. Zephyr’s breath causes flowers to spring from the mouth of the earth nymph Chloris, who then assumes the richly-clad form of Flora as the next figure in the group. Venus, the personification of April, stands in the centre of the picture gesturing towards her attendant Graces.
Interpretation based on the Hermetic Octave:
Michael Hayes, in his book The Infinite Harmony: Musical Structures in Science and Theology, attempts to show that certain hermetic ideas may be found in many of the world's major religions, including Christianity. In particular, he asserts that the concept of the hermetic octave is included in many of these religious belief systems. Hermetic octaves have two potential fault points which may lead to their eventual decay; however, appropriately placed interventions or shocks may permit the avoidance of these natural tendencies. At page 88 of his book, Michael Hayes writes:
The Pythagoreans proposed that, for evolutionary or "intelligent" octaves to have a fully harmonious `ring' to them, it was necessary to exceed the bounds of ordinary practical music and actually introduce the additional concentrations of resonance at the points of vibrational retardation - between the notes "mi-fa" and "ti-do." These additional concentrations of resonance, or `metaphysical semitones', were to be created, in time, by the individual himself. Remember the seven-tone octave of practical music reflects a natural cosmic process which is in reality disharmonious. That is, without the two additional semitone `shocks' it is not possible for a developing scale of `intelligent' resonance to exactly double its rate of vibrations and so square its possibilities. In other words, in lacking the aforementioned semitones the natural, living octave must, given time, either `decompose' (involve), or be deflected or consumed by other more powerful orders of energy and form passing through its given sphere of influence - hence the vast multiplicity of natural forms existing in the universe and why, as has already been suggested, there are no apparent straight lines in nature.
Of course this idea has been previously developed at great length by G. I. Gurdjieff (1877-1949) and in the writings of his former student, P. D. Ouspensky (1878-1947). For a complete delineation of this concept, I recommend that one read chapters 7 and 9 of Ouspensky's book entitled In Search of the Miraculous.
The association of the hermetic octave with La Primavera may appear to be a bit of a stretch, but the basic elements of this association are given below.
La Primavera depicts eight major figures, which, if read from right to left, may be associated with the Pythagorean octave as follows: Zephyr (do), Chloris (re), Flora (mi), Venus (fa), Aglia (so), Euphrosyne (la), Thalia (ti) and ending with Mercury (do). Accordingly, Zephyr and Mercury mark the beginning and the end of an octave. Zephyr literally blows into the painting and begins the octave; Mercury, who holds his caduceus high in the air, marks the end of the octave, but also begins the next octave at a higher frequency. The six figures in between, Chloris Flora, Venus and the Three Graces (Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia), convey an upward progression of the heavenly harmony.
The two semitones or critical points occur: first, between Flora and Venus; and second, between Thalia and Mercury. Each critical point has one of the gods, either Venus or Mercury, involved in the interval. The implication is that the successful crossing of each critical point or interval may require divine (or an least supernatural) assistance. Also, the cupid hovering over Venus and the caduceus held by Mercury are considered to be markers of these important transition points.
Suggestions for Further Research:
A description of the various octave structures in use during the time of classical Greece is provided at the Greek Modes page of this website. A web page devoted to the philosophy of Plato is accessible at another of my websites; that page includes a discussion of the Cosmic or World Soul Octave as described by Plato in the Timaeus.
Further development of the idea of associating the hermetic octave to the painting La Primavera may be found at the following websites: