Detail, The birth of Venus, c 1484, Tempera on wood.  Ufizzi Gallery Florence

Detail, Primavera, c 1482, Grease tempera on wood.  Ufizzi Gallery Florence

The Punishment of Korah, 1481-2, Cappella Sistina, Vatican

Scan courtesy Web Gallery of Art

This is the second fresco in the series of 3 Botticelli painted for Pope Sixtus IV for the Sistine Chapel.

The fresco reproduces three episodes of rebellion by the Hebrews against God's appointed leaders, Moses and Aaron, and the divine punishment of those responsible.

On the right-hand side, the revolt of the Jews against Moses is related. Moses is the old man in green and yellow. The story goes that the Jews after being led out of Egypt wanted a new leader who would take them back, and they threatened to stone Moses. Joshua placed himself protectively between them and their would-be victim, as depicted in Botticelli's painting.

The center of the fresco shows Aaron in the background, swinging his incense, a depiction of the rebellion of Korah against Aaron's authority as high priest. Their punishment was to be swallowed up by the earth, which is breaking open under them on the left hand side of the fresco. The two innocent sons of Korah float on a cloud and avoid the punishment.

Aaron is depicted in the fresco wearing the triple-ringed tiara of the Pope and thus characterized as the papal predecessor. It was a warning to those questioning the ultimate authority of the Pope over the Church. The papal claims to leadership were God-given, their origin lay in Christ giving Peter the keys to the kingdom of heaven and thereby granting him privacy over the young Church. Perugino painted this crucial element of the doctrine of papal supremacy immediately opposite Botticelli's fresco. - Web Gallery of Art