In my recent series looking at the classical gods and goddesses, I omitted one group of personifications who have appeared in many paintings, the winds, in Greek Anemoi (Ἄνεμοι), and to the Romans Venti. These are of particular interest as each became known by their seasonal associations with weather and climate. In Greece:
- Boreas, the north wind, brings cold air, particularly in the winter.
- Zephyrus (or Zephyros), the west wind, is the gentlest and associated with Spring, when he brings the start of the growing season.
- Notos (or Notus), the south wind, brings hot, dry air, particularly in the late summer, when he comes with storms.
- Euros (or Eurus), the east or south-east wind, is associated with storms at sea.
The Romans had variations reflecting the climate of the Italian peninsula, including Auster, the south wind, representing the sirocco with its clouds, wind and rain. In time other personifications developed, which even included localised wind phenomena. Of these, only Zephyrus and Boreas appear in many paintings, thanks to their roles in popular classical myths, of which the best known is that of Flora, goddess of the Spring.
Sandro Botticelli’s huge masterpiece Primavera (Spring), painted in egg tempera around 1482, set the benchmark for visual art, in telling the story of Zephyrus and Flora. The west wind (far right, and detail below) abducted and raped the nymph Chloris (to the left of him), who was then transformed into the goddess Flora, who is dressed and decked in flowers, representing the Spring.
Just a few years later, and still using egg tempera, Botticelli incorporated Zephyrus in another masterpiece, The Birth of Venus (c 1486). Allegedly inspired by a description of Apelles’ Aphrodite Anadyomene, it’s another foundation work in the modern canon. Blowing Aphrodite to the shore are Zephyrus and Aura, the personification of lighter breeze.
Just over a century later, in about 1618, Jan Brueghel the Elder and the young Peter Paul Rubens joined forces to paint their Flora and Zephyr. The fruit of this collaboration has many similarities to their better-known Five Senses series from the same time. Flora sits naked, collecting flowers dropped into a red sheet by an airborne Zephyrus, with two putti assisting.
In about 1685, Jerzy Siemiginowski-Eleuter painted this Allegory of Spring, which refers mainly to an earlier painting by Poussin. Flora is now aloft, with Zephyrus behind her, and signs of the Spring zodiac emblazoned in the sky. Below them is a selection of the cast of Poussin’s Empire of Flora, including Ajax falling on a spear in the centre. Birds and ‘May’ blossom set the seasonal reference.
In 1712-16, Sebastiano Ricci’s far simpler Flora stands Zephyrus behind her, and there are sundry winged cupids and accessory winds, as well as a display of flowers. But intricate references to Roman myth have faded.
Tiepolo’s The Triumph of Zephyr and Flora from 1734-35 refers to Ovid’s account in his Metamorphoses, and to Botticelli’s Primavera, with Zephyrus in flight with his arm around Flora, just about to crown her with a garland.
Zephyrus Wooing Flora (1888) is Henrietta Rae’s delicate ‘faerie’ rendering of this myth.
In John William Waterhouse’s Flora and the Zephyrs, from 1898, Flora sits, arms raised, to the right of centre as Zephyrus kisses her right arm from above. With her are the three Graces (not the Hours with their colourful clothes), who rather than dancing together are gathering the flowers to braid into their hair. Other winds are seen over the treetops of this sadly poor-quality image.
A more indirect reference to this myth is in Antoine-François Callet’s ceiling showing Spring, or Zephyr and Flora Crowning Cybele (1780-81), which now adorns the ceiling of the Galerie d’Apollon in the Louvre.
Tomorrow I’ll look at paintings of Boreas, and his equally ungentlemanly behaviour.