A Footnote

In Berlin’s Gemäldegallerie Botticelli’s Venus confronted me with her full body.


My pedestrian eyes dropped to her feet, to the roll of fat just above her left ankle, to the toes slightly bent with the weight, to the impression her big toes make in the block of what must be stone that crosses the painting at the bottom. The left foot casts the only shadow, an incipient blackness that connects the fleshy woman to the blackness behind her.


My gaze rose to include her legs:


I adopted her pose, weight primarily on the ball of my left foot, left heel touching but not heavily, right foot mostly balancing.

I compared her in my mind to Botticelli’s Birth of Venus:

Botticelli Birth of Venus

I prefer, I thought, the simpler form that emphasizes its verticality against the black background—the lines of the stone base as the horizontal antithesis.

The vertical form is composed of circles: the head, the eyes and eyebrows, the flowing and curving hair, the sloping shoulders, the breasts, the navel, the stomach, the left forearm, the hands, the thighs, the knees, the calves, the heel, the rounded top of the left foot, the left instep, the toenails.

The vertical line moves upward from the ball of the left foot through the hidden vulva to the left eye.

It is a painting of contrasts: vertical and horizontal, line and circles, golden hair that separates into individual hairs until it finally dissolves into the black, hair both bound and unbound, braided and free flowing, civilized and wild, creamy flesh against the black, this-worldly and other-worldly.

After decades of work on the metaphor of standing, I see the feet first and last. Homo erectus.

About Scott Abbott

Ph.D. in German Literature from Princeton University, 1979. Then I taught at Vanderbilt University, BYU, and Utah Valley State College. At Utah Valley University, I'm Director of the Program in Integrated Studies and former Chair of the Department of Humanities and Philosophy. My publications include a book on Freemasonry and the German Novel, two co-authored books with Zarko Radakovic (published in Serbo-Croatian in Belgrade), and translations of a book by Austrian author Peter Handke and of a catalogue of an exhibit called "The German Army and Genocide." More famously, my children are in the process of creating good lives for themselves: as a model and manager, as a teacher of Chinese language, as a watershed scientist and science writer, as a jazz musician, as a corrections officer, as university students, and as parents. I share my life with UVU historian Lyn Bennett and our yellow dog Blue. Some publications at http://works.bepress.com/scott_abbott/
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