A new Italian tourism campaign is facing widespread outrage for featuring Sandro Botticelli’s (1445-1510) iconic Venus as an ‘influencer’. The official website and video designed by the Armando Testa communications group has been described as “humiliating” and “grotesque”.
Titled “Open to Meraviglia” (Open to Wonder), the campaign was launched by Italy’s tourism ministry and board to promote travel to the country. Venus, who has been given a modern makeover as a “virtual influencer“, explores the iconic landmarks of Italy in the campaign images, from the Colosseum in Rome to Florence’s Cathedral. She even takes a selfie at Piazza San Marco in Venice.
“We are the most beautiful nation in the world, but we are not the best at promoting ourselves,” said Italy’s Tourism Minister Daniela Santanchè at the campaign’s press release. “We need to regain our pride in being Italian, in our identity“.
Italy’s computerised mascot was inspired by the mythical goddess of love and beauty represented by Botticelli in The Birth of Venus. In the widely celebrated canvas painting, Venus emerges from the sea foam fully grown in a giant scallop shell, propelled ashore by the breath of the wind god Zephyrus. The Florentine artist most likely painted his masterpiece in around 1485 for the wealthy Medici family. Art historians dating back to Giorgio Vasari (1511-1574) have extensively researched the painting, which is now considered one of the most iconic of all time in the Western world.
Despite costing €9 million (£7.8 million), the new campaign has been mostly met with criticism from the art world. Italy’s heritage activist group Mi Riconosci has condemned the “humiliating campaign”, whilst art historian Livia Garomersini stated it “trivializes our heritage in the most vulgar way.”
Social media users also spotted several inconsistences in the campaign. One scene supposedly set in Italy of people drinking wine on a sunlit patio was actually shot in Slovenia with Slovenian wine. On the German version of the tourism website, the town names of Cento and Brindisi have been mistranslated as “Hundred” and “Toast”.
But this is not the first time Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus has been reimagined in popular culture, much to the dismay of many art historians. The painting has featured in adverts for brands like Reebok sneakers in 2008 and as the branding image for Adobe Illustrator software from 1986, as well as inspiring countless photoshoots and music videos for the likes of Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.