Postcard from Paris—Botticelli at the Louvre


Of the more than 9 million visitors to the Louvre in a given year, at least 6 million come to see the Mona Lisa. They take the escalator from beneath the Grande Pyramide to the Denon wing, and follow the small but persistent signs for La Jaconde, stopping in front of the Winged Victory—newly renovated and impressively installed at the top a flight of marble stairs.

Then they turn right toward the Italian paintings, and walk through a narrow hall past 2 amazing Boticelli frescoes.

Most people don’t even notice these delicate works, painted by Sandro Boticelli in the 1480s, for the walls of Villa Lemmi, a country villa belonging to the Medici family.

Venus and the Three Graces Presenting Gifts to a Young Woman shows 5 young women in profile. The setting is an imaginary garden. Venus, the goddess of love, offers a bouquet of flowers, possibly a wedding gift, to a bride-to-be. The goddess and subject are flanked by the Three Graces and Cupid.

The fresco was discovered under a coat of whitewash in the Villa Lemmi and rescued. I love it for its delicate beauty — and its symbolism makes it even more endearing. Here is how the Louvre describes the painting.

Line, color, romance, classical beauty, generosity…it is all here, all but unseen on a busy day at the Louvre.