Alessandro Botticelli scratched his head; his visitor, the mighty Lorenzo de Medici had left his workshop only minutes ago. He should be feeling immensely proud that Lorenzo the Magnificent had commissioned him to paint the lovely Simonetta Cattaneo Vespucci; to be chosen by the powerful ruler of the Florentine Republic to execute this commission was a great honour indeed; it was an open secret that both Lorenzo and his younger brother Giuliano were in love with the girl and Lorenzo would want the painting to the very best that gold could buy.
The commission, however, came with conditions, which was the reason Botticelli frowned. He was to paint her as the embodiment of Venus. Venus had two aspects: she was an earthly goddess who aroused humans to physical love or she was a heavenly goddess who inspired intellectual love in them. So, looking at Venus, the most beautiful of goddesses, might at first raise a physical response in viewers which then lifted their minds towards the Creator. Lorenzo knew exactly what he wanted, he wanted to have his cake and eat it, so to speak.
A difficult proposition and it would not do to upset the great man.
Botticelli's apprentices threw covert glances in his direction. They had witnessed the scene with Lorenzo and were aware of the maestro's discomfiture. What would he do next? They were all ready to help him in any way they could, their love and respect for their teacher was limitless.
Botticelli was unaware of them for the moment, his creative mind churning, ideas being born and discarded one after the other; this was going to prove a difficult birth . . . . .
born . . . . birth . . . .
yes, there it was, the germ of an idea . . . . .
yes, he'd paint Venus being born, both innocent and as a fully formed woman, rising from the sea . . . .
stepping out of the waves? enveloped in spray? rising like a mermaid from the ocean?
Hm, maybe not, these images were rather too suggestive of earthly delights . . . . .
A shell, that was it. Yes, a shell, she'd be carried by a shell, not moving a muscle, hands modestly held in front of her, her long tresses hiding her femininity.
He had it. That's how it would be.
"Go get me the most beautiful shells you can find on the seashore", he shouted to his apprentices, who scattered instantly, each of them wanting to be the one who found the shell the maestro would use.
Pietro came back with the best, a gorgeously frilly conch shell.
"That's the one," Botticelli cried. "Now then, how to get Venus to arise from it? Half in, half out . . ?"