Practical magic? Sandro Botticelli’s Venus and Mars at the National Gallery. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

The Florentine Renaissance weaver of floral fantasies Sandro Botticelli is a magical artist. Just to look at his masterpiece the Primavera is to have your spirits lifted, as if he knows how to release pleasure-giving chemicals in the human brain by particular combinations of colour and form.

The question is, how literal is the magic in Botticelli’s art? Are his paintings allegories, or entertainments, or something more ā€“ how shall we say this ā€“ practical? A fascinating new idea about Botticelli’s alluring idyll Venus and Mars in London’s National Gallery gives an old debate a contemporary twist. According to art historian David Bellingham, a strange plant pawed by a young satyr who plays about, clad in the discarded cuirass of Mars, at the bottom right of the panel, is a specimen of the hallucinogenic Datura stramonium, also known as “poor man’s acid”. According to this latest theory the pacified and disarmed war god Mars has actually been drugged by Venus, deity of love, who reclines wide awake and clothed beside his slumberous nude form.

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Jonathan Jones
Guardian

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