In fact, the mere subject, and even representation in general, was so indifferent to Botticelli, that he appears almost as if haunted by the idea of communicating the unembodied values of touch and movement. Now there is a way of rendering even tactile values with almost no body, and that is by translating them as faithfully as may be into values of movement. For instance:—we want to render the roundness of a wrist without the slightest touch of either light or shade; we simply give the movement of the wrist’s outline and the movement of the drapery as it falls over it, and the roundness is communicated to us almost entirely in terms of movement. But let us go one step further. Take this line that renders the roundness of the wrist, or a more obvious example, the lines that render the movements of the tossing hair, the fluttering draperies, and the dancing waves in the “Birth of Venus”—take these lines alone with all their power of stimulating our imagination of movement, and what do we have? Pure values of movement abstracted, unconnected with any representation whatever. This kind of line, then, being the quintessence of movement, has, like the essential elements in all the arts, a power of stimulating our imagination and of directly communicating life. Well! imagine an art made up entirely of these quintessences of movement-values, and you will have something that holds the same relation to representation that music holds to speech—and this art exists, and is called lineal decoration. In this art of arts Sandro Botticelli may have had rivals in Japan and elsewhere in the East, but in Europe never. To its demands he was ready to sacrifice everything that habits acquired under Filippo and Pollaiuolo,—and his employers!—would permit. The representative element was for him a mere libretto: he was happiest when his subject lent itself to translation into what may be called a lineal symphony. And to this symphony everything was made to yield; tactile values were translated into values of movement, and, for the same reason—to prevent the drawing of the eye inward, to permit it to devote itself to the rhythm of the line—the backgrounds were either entirely suppressed or kept as simple as possible. Colour also, with almost a contempt for its representative function, Botticelli entirely subordinated to his lineal scheme, compelling it to draw attention to the line, rather than, as is usual, away from it.

This is the explanation of the value put upon Botticelli’s masterpieces. In some of his later works, such as the Dresden predelle, we have, it is true, bacchanals rather than symphonies of line, and in many of his earlier paintings, in the “Fortezza,” for instance, the harness and trappings have so disguised Pegasus that we scarcely know him from a cart horse. But the painter of the “Venus Rising from the Sea,” of the “Spring,” or of the Villa Lemmi frescoes is the greatest artist of lineal design that Europe has ever had.