One of the National Gallery’s best-known paintings, Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, far from depicting the all-conquering power of pastoral love, may be an illustration of the potency of hallucinogenic drugs.
Following enquiries by David Bellingham, a programme director at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Kew Gardens have identified a plant held by a satyr in the painting as Datura stramonium, a plant with a history of sending people mad and making them want to strip off their clothes. Its hallucinogenic properties were recorded in ancient texts and it has since been used as an aphrodisiac and a poison.
The fruit of the plant is also known as thorn apple and Devil’s trumpet. The plant, known as the ‘poor man’s acid’ in the States, is highly poisonous. Guy Barter, of the Royal Horticultural Society, said that Datura became notorious in the late 17th century when it was eaten by British soldiers visiting Jamestown in Virginia. “They went off their heads for a few days,” he said.
Now that the blatent drug reference has been discovered, the painting makes much more sense to your humble Godcheckers. Mars is clearly on a heavy trip, while Venus looks on disapprovingly… and somewhat disappointedly.
Full story at the Times Online.
Thanks to @ForteanTimes for the heads-up.