Allegory of the Triumph of Venus (Allegory with Venus and Cupid)

size(cm): 37x30
Sale price£97 GBP


This is one of Bronzino's most complex and enigmatic paintings. It contains a tangle of moral messages, presented in a sexually explicit image. Venus, goddess of love, steals an arrow from the quiver of her son Cupid while kissing him on the lips. Cupid caresses Venus's chest, her bare buttocks stretching out provocatively as she kisses him back and attempts to steal her crown.

The allegory has an almost enamel-like surface: the painter's brushstrokes have been blended to hide the means by which the painting was made. Bright white artificial lighting defines the marble extremities that are clearly outlined and unambiguously drawn. Every detail, animate or inanimate, is subjected to dazzling scrutiny in unflinching light, creating a dramatically heightened sense of artificiality. The painting has the structure and quality of a relief sculpture, with multiple figures, shallow depth, and no real background, giving it a claustrophobic feel.

The masks at the feet of Venus suggest that she and Cupid exploit lust to mask deception. The howling figure on the left may be Jealousy; the boy scattering roses and stepping on a thorn could be Madness or Pleasure; the hybrid creature with the face of a girl, Fraud or Deception. The winged father of time fights with Oblivion, who looks like a mask, to reveal or hide the scene.

The painting had been commissioned by Cosimo de' Medici, Duke of Florence, and given by him as a diplomatic gift to King Francis I of France. Presumably the images appealed to the sophisticated and playfully erotic taste of the Medici and French courts at this time.

The attention to silky textures, jewelery and masks is consistent with Bronzino's courtly and aristocratic patronage. The figure of Venus appears as a precious object in a luxurious setting, perversely seductive by virtue of its very inaccessibility.

Crammed into a compressed space in the foreground of the airless environment are several figures whose identities and purposes have been the subject of extensive scholarly discussion. The painting appears to be about lust, fraud, and envy. It has also been called a "Triumph of Venus".

Its meaning, however, remains elusive. With its light jewel-like color and abundant use of ultramarine blue, made from the semi-precious stone lapis lazuli, the Allegory has the appearance of a luxury item, as flawless, cold and hard as the golden ball in Venus's hand.

Other names: Venus, Cupid, Madness and Time; Allegory with Venus and Cupid; Allegory of the Passion

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