Venetian, 1488/1490 - 1576
Venus and Adonis, c. 1560
oil on canvas
overall: 106.8 x 136 cm (42 1/16 x 53 9/16 in.) framed: 134.9 x 163.8 x 7 cm (53 1/8 x 64 1/2 x 2 3/4 in.)
Object 5 of 7
Titian painted the first version of Venus and Adonis as one of a series of eight mythological subjects, which he called poesie, or visual poems, created for King Philip II of Spain. More than thirty painted and engraved versions of this extremely popular theme survive today. Some canvases, such as this one, were painted by Titian himself. Others were produced by members of his workshop, and still others were the work of later copyists.
The story of Venus and Adonis derives from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Venus, infatuated with the handsome young Adonis, knew that his passion for hunting would ultimately cause his death. Here, the powerless goddess clings to her mortal lover in a futile attempt to save his life. Adonis pulls away to pursue the hunt and tragically meets his death. The closeness of the lovers' final embrace serves as an ironic reminder of their impending, and permanent, separation.
It is odd to see Venus depicted as a vulnerable figure and from a rear view. Titian wrote that by posing her from behind, he hoped to provide variety among the many nudes in King Philip's collection. By painting Venus from the back, Titian also allowed viewers to complete her beauty according to their own ideal of perfection.
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