The goddess of love was born fully grown from the sea, rising from the waves and wringing the foam from her hair. The Venus Anadyomene (from the Greek word meaning "rising up") was one of the most celebrated paintings of antiquity and inspired many sculptors. Descriptions of it survived into the Renaissance, as did ancient statuettes. The subject appealed to artists, who wanted to match their skill against the famous masters of the past, and to their patrons, who wanted to demonstrate their cultivation and knowledge.
Giovanni Bologna, also known as Giambologna, was the most famous sculptor in Florence. Following the death of Michelangelo, Giambologna used the Anadyomene Venus imagery for a statue representing the city of Florence. The poses and sizes of that work are very similar to those of the National Gallery's Venus and Cupid; scholars speculate that the sculptor of the Gallery's Venus must have had access to Giambologna's studio. Yet, the differences prove that this is not a simple copy or recast. This Venus, unlike the one by Giambologna, is slim and relaxed in her movement, her face coolly classical. She contrasts with the energetic and plump cupid perched atop a dolphin.
In fact our sculptor has added both cupid and dolphin, and with them a witty note -- the bronze was plumbed as a fountain. Shinny ripples of water would drip from Venus' long tresses, falling to the cupid's shell and emerging from the mouth of the dolphin. The fountain mechanism still worked when the bronze was installed in the National Gallery, but untreated water was found to be harmful to the metal. Once a new water treatment system is completed, the water will be turned back on.
FOLLOWER OF GIOVANNI BOLOGNA
Venus and Cupid
DIMENSIONS: 124.5 cm (49 in.)
COLLECTION: National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Gift of John and Henrietta Goelet, in memory of Thomas Goelet, and Patrons' Permanent Fund
ACCESSION NUMBER: 1991.242.1