Midway through his great poem “Among School Children,” Yeats turns his eye away from the children to the mental image of a woman with whom he had long ago shared intense experience. Imagining how her face might look now, he first asks “Did Quattrocento finger fashion it?” then describes it in terms that show he has Botticelli in mind: “Hollow of cheek as though it drank the wind / And took a mess of shadows for its meat.” Either the Venus at her Birth or the spring nymph in the Primavera, both forcefully windblown, would fit. The poem appeared in 1928. But the source of the image is the writer’s youth in the 1890s, when Botticelli had a high vogue among English writers and artists, the latter including such varied recyclers of his forms as Burne-Jones and Beardsley. Such a vogue was a great revaluation, for Botticelli had been largely ignored in the centuries since he fell out of favor in his own later...

 

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