This Venus is among the few life-size Renaissance bronze statues in the United States and, certainly, one of the best. Her proportions recall classical ideals of feminine beauty, but are a little fuller, more rounded and compact. Standing with the weight on her left leg, she twists in a subtle spiral. Her right hand offers a conch shell, an ancient female symbol. The luxuriant tresses of her hair, bound in knots and chased with fine lines, wind as if full of energy. The voluptuous contours and warm gaze make this statue a persuasive conception of the ancient Greco-Roman goddess of love, beauty, and procreation.
The Venus was once thought to be a work of Jacopo Sansovino, probably because she is paired with a statue of Bacchus and a Faun that resembles Sansovino's Bacchus of 1511-12 in Florence. Recent research has dated the Washington Venus and Bacchus closer to 1600 and traced their ownership back as far as 1656, when they stood in the garden of a villa at Lainate, near Milan. The sculptural decoration for this garden in the late 1580s was supervised by Francesco Brambilla, chief of sculpture for Milan Cathedral. Other works produced from his designs suggest that he may have made the wax or clay model that was cast into the Venus.
stamped on base: N. / 6316 / P.R.
Installed in the garden, outside the nymphaeum of the Villa Litta Visconti Borromeo, Lainate, near Milan, before 1617 (and possibly part of the original installation completed in 1589); purchased c. 1865 by "Prince Napoleon," Palais Royal, Paris; (his sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 9-11 May 1872, 2nd day, no. 222, with NGA 1937.1.133 as no. 221); (Wareham); (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 25 July 1891, no. 92, with NGA 1937.1.133 as no. 91, withdrawn); (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 20 May 1892, no. 147, with NGA 1937.1.133 as no. 146). Sir George Faudel-Phillips [1840-1922], Lord Mayor of London, 1896-1897. George Jay Gould [1864-1923], Lakewood, New Jersey; (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris); purchased 15 December 1936 by The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.
- Cortissoz, Royal. An Introduction to the Mellon Collection. Boston, 1937: 28.
- Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 235-236, no. A-21, as Venus Anadyomene by Jacopo Sansovino.
- Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 253, repro. 236, as Venus Anadyomene by Jacopo Sansovino.
- Swarzenski, Georg. "Some Aspects of Italian Quattrocento Sculpture in the National Gallery." Gazette des Beaux-Arts 6th series, 24 (November 1943): 300 fig. 15, 302, as by Jacopo Sansovino.
- Duveen Brothers, Inc. Duveen Sculpture in Public Collections of America: A Catalog Raisonné with illustrations of Italian Renaissance Sculptures by the Great Masters which have passed through the House of Duveen. New York, 1944: figs. 194-196, as Venus Anadyomene by Jacopo Sansovino.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 168, repro., as Venus Anadyomene by Jacopo Sansovino.
- Seymour, Charles. Masterpieces of Sculpture from the National Gallery of Art. Washington and New York, 1949: 180, note 141, repro. 127-129, as Venus Anadyomene by Jacopo Sansovino.
- Hartt, Frederick. 'Review: Charles Seymour Jr., Masterpieces of Sculpture from the National Gallery of Art." College Art Journal 10 (Winter 1951): 204.
- Valentiner, Wilhelm R. "Shorter Notes: A Neglected Sculptor in the Mannerist Exhibition at Amsterdam." The Art Quarterly 19 (Spring 1956): 41-49, repro. fig. 3.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 170, as Venus Anadyomene by Jacopo Sansovino.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 150, repro., as Venus Anadyomene by Jacopo Sansovino.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 634, no. 991, repro., as Venus Anadyomene by Jacopo Sansovino.
- "The Mellon Venus." National Gallery of Art Newsletter (July-August 1987): 5, repro.
- Gentilini, Giancarlo, and Morandotti, Alessandro. "The Sculptures of the nymphaeum at Lainate: the Origins of the Mellon Venus and Bacchus." Studies in the History of Art 24 (1990): 135-137, 147, 150-151, 153-154, 158-161, repros.
- Lewis, Douglas and Luchs, Alison. "Report on the First Curatorial Colloquy at the National Gallery of Art, June 1987." Studies in the History of Art 24 (1990):131-133.
- Morandotti, Alessandro. "The Mellon Venus and Bacchus and the Original Sculpture Collection in the Nymphaeum of Villa Visconti Borromeo-Litta in Lainate." Center: Research Reports and Record of Activities 10 (1990): 65-66, repro.
- Leithe-Jasper, Manfred. "Die fürstliche kunstkammer als quelle der anregung für künstler: Am beispiel der einwirkung François Duquesnoy's auf Georg Raphael Donner." In Zu gast: In der kustkammer, Eine ausstellung anlässlich des einhundertjährigen bestehens des Kunsthistorischen Museums, 12. Oktober bis 15. Dezember 1991. Berlin, 1991: 99-104, repro. abb. 85.
- National Gallery of Art. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1992: 296, repro.
- Sculpture: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1994: 151, repro.
- Fabianski, Marcin. Correggio's Erotic Poesie. Kraków, 1998: 25, 26, repro. fig. 8.
- Thompson, J. Kevin, Leslie J. Heinberg, Madeline Altabe, Stacey Tantleff-Dunn. Exacting Beauty: Theory, Assessment, and Treatment of Body Image Disturbance. Washington, 1999: 89-91, repro. fig. 3.1A.
- National Gallery of Art Special Issue. Connaissance des Arts. Paris, 2000:59.
- Morandotti, Alessandro. Milano profana nell'età dei Borromeo. Milan, 2005: 39, 42, 55, 58, 77 n. 6, 80 n. 74, 85 n. 296, 238-239, 242-243, repro. 39, figs. XXII, XXIII, 267 fig. 165, 269 fig. 171.
- Penny, Nicholas. "The Evolution of the Plinth, Pedestal, and Socle." In Collecting Sculpture in Early Modern Europe. Nicholas Penny and Eike D. Schmidt, eds. Studies in the History of Art 70, Symposium Papers 47 (2008): 473.