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Venus and Adonis

Painting, 1554, 186×207 cm

Description of the artwork «Venus and Adonis»

How did it happen that Titian's Adonis from Prado and the main Spanish collector Bosch - literally have one face? What relation did Titian and his painting have to the matrimonial plans of Queen Mary of England Tudor, better known as the “Bloody Mary”? Why is Venus in the picture of Titian depicted from the back, “guilty” of Danae? Arthive collected answers to these and other interesting questions.

What happens in the picture of Titian?


The golden-haired goddess Venus knows that her lover Adonis (shepherd, hunter and extraordinary handsome man) is destined to die on the hunt and therefore clings to him with all his might, begging to stay. But Adonis is adamant - his spear in his hand, raised up, speaks of his determination, and with difficulty restrain themselves in order to stand still, smelling the prey of the dog. Adonis's gaze, which he bestows upon Venus, is indifferent and cold: it is clear that Cupid, who managed to hit Venus’s heart with a love arrow, didn’t take his time on the hill, and his bow and quiver with arrows hang idle on a tree. In an awkward U-turn, expressing her hot impulse to prevent the inevitable, Venus kicked the bowl over with her foot (a symbol of intoxication) - this is an unkind sign. A peaceful morning, a beautiful hilly landscape with a gap of bright blue sky between strong oaks, at first glance, does not portend trouble, but Aurora’s chariot in the sky has already illuminated the grove with rays - a hunting place where a wild boar lurks, from whose fangs Adonis will die. Red anemones will grow from the drops of his blood, symbolizing the dying and eternal revival of nature, but this will be later. Titian stops the moment, dramatic and passionate, when, contrary to all predictions, Venus believes that the power of love can be saved from death.

The picture is filled with movement. The dynamism of the composition is determined both by the complex, screw-like pose of Venus, and by how confident grace Adonis is released from these tenacious embraces, and the pose of the sleeping Cupid, partially mirroring the position of Venus, and the perfectly impatient impatience of hunting dogs, - Giorgio VasariFor example, he called the truthfulness with which the dogs were written as one of the main advantages of the picture.

Venus and Adonis, inspired by Ovid's Metamorphoses, ancient sculptural reliefs and sculptor’s works Lorenzo Ghiberti, written by Titian in a free, energetic manner and during the lifetime of the master has gained great popularity. Having completed the composition for this story for the first time in the mid-1540s for Cardinal Alessandro Farnese (lost), and in the mid-1550s having created the “canonical” version, now presented in the Prado Gallery, Titian will return to Venus and about twenty more times Adonis. "

How did it happen that Titian's Adonis from Prado and the main Spanish collector Bosch - literally have one face?


Oh, that’s just a snap! In 1553 or 1554, the future Spanish monarch Philip II ordered a series of paintings of mythological content (Titian himself called them the beautiful word poesiе). Thanks to this order, not only Venus and Adonis were born, but also Danae(stored at Epsley House, residence of the Dukes of Wellington), "Diana and Actaeon", "Diana and Callisto"created a little later The Abduction of Europeand others. It is known that Philip II was in a hurry to a middle-aged artist (although he was in no hurry to pay him on time) - the monarch was eager to quickly become the owner of his coveted poesis, he was generally obsessed with art in a sense. For example, having gained control of the rebellious Netherlands, Philip II will literally fall in love with creativity Jerome Boschdue to which a number of works of the latter will be in Spain and will not even suffer from the Inquisition, despite, to put it mildly, the dual nature of the depicted. Read more about Philip II Arthive told here.

Well, Titian, having received an order for poetry, decided to give Adonis a tangible portrait resemblance to the customer himself. Perhaps this is what he elegantly flattered to Philip II, because in a figurative sense Adonis is called a very handsome man.

What relation did Titian and his painting have to the matrimonial plans of Queen Mary of England Tudor, better known as the “Bloody Mary”?


"Venus and Adonis", like other poets, Philip II ordered just on the occasion of his marriage to Mary Tudor - he moved to his wife in England and was in a hurry to decorate his new homes to his own taste.
Like other Spanish monarchs, Catholic Philip fought with Muslims and Protestants, but his new (second) wife, Maria Tudor, turned out to be an even more zealous Catholic than himself. She believed that her mission was to return Britain to the fold of the Catholic Church, during her reign about 300 Protestant hierarchs and preachers were executed in the country, which is why, according to Queen Carolie Erickson's biographer, there is not a single monument to Mary Tudor in England - with the exception of that survived the queen of the nickname "Bloody Mary."

Maria Tudor was much older than Philip II: at the time of the marriage, she was 37 years old, and he was only 26. And it is worth mentioning that none other than Titian directly contributed to the outbreak of feelings for the Spaniard in Maria’s heart.
For many years, Titian was a favorite artist and companion of the father of Philip II - Emperor of the Great Roman Empire, Charles V, and Titian equestrian portrait of Karlconsidered the reference image of the monarch. That's why Karl invited Titian when it was necessary to write in 1551 representative portrait of his heir, which they planned to send to the prospective bride in England.

"Philip was not handsome, - says the artist’s biographer Alexander Makhov, describing this Titian portrait of the future holder of the Spanish crown and the prototype of Adonis. - But Titian managed to give his sickly and unattractive face, bordered by a liquid beard, a noble expression. He wears a half-body with a gold notch and a rich suit. In his left hand he holds the hilt of a sword, and with his right hand he touches a helmet decorated with feathers, lying with knightly gloves on a table covered with raspberry velvet. The figure advanced slightly forward is full of lightness, and in the prince's gaze, looking towards the viewer, one will feel will and hidden power. The light pouring from the left illuminates a slightly turned face and legs, thin in light stockings, with prohibitive feet. Glare of light scattered on the metal armor and raspberry tablecloth. Titian understood that the portrait should arouse the sympathy of the overripe, picky bride, who rejected many applicants who harassed her royal hand. Therefore, according to the fashion of those years, he tried to emphasize in the suit of the young heir and the groom a very frivolous detail, talking about his manhood ”.

Thus, in “Venus and Adonis” Titian continued his own tendency of a complimentary picture: she not only caressed her eyes with the balance of composition and harmonious color, but also flattered royal vanity.

It remains to add that the royal marriage was not happy: Maria suffered very much from the coldness of her husband (almost like Venus from the indifference of Adonis), and after it turned out that her pregnancy was false (the queen accepted an abnormal condition for it - ovarian cyst or uterine cancer - from whom he will die in 1858), Philip II left his wife and returned to Spain. Favorite paintings of Titian and other outstanding masters followed him.

How is it that Venus in the picture of Titian is depicted from the back, Danae is “to blame”?


In the image of the goddess Titian managed to find a rather unusual and at the same time extremely expressive angle. It was believed that this bold find - to portray Venus from the back and, moreover, showing initiative in love (in the paintings of those years, this role was traditionally assigned to men) - brought the eroticism of the image to the limit: according to some reports, in the presence of the ladies, the painting was sometimes hidden behind a curtain .

Female back, which became the center of composition in "Treason"(1570) Veronese and Rubens Toilete of Venus (1615), perceived as homage to Titian.

The letter of Titian to Philip II, dated in the summer of 1554, where the artist explains to his crowned customer, what considerations he was guided by the image of Venus, has been preserved: “I hope that the painting“ Venus and Adonis ”will bring the same delight to your eyes as the previous works of Titian, your slave. Since in “Danae”, which I have already sent to Your Majesty, the figure is shown in the front, I decided to show the figure from the back in this other poesie, so that the cabinet in which they will be displayed will look much more attractive ”.

Why did Titian repeat Venus and Adonis again and again?


Indeed, this picture (as well as “Danae” - see details in the description of the picture) became for the artist “serial” - he and his workshop completed about two dozen “Venus and Adonisov”. In addition to the Prado, have their own version of the picture National Gallery (London), National Gallery of Art (Washington), National Gallery of Ancient Art (Rome), Ashmolean Museum (Oxford), Getty Museum (Los Angeles) and Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York)and “Venus and Adonis”, acquired in 2005 by a Russian collector at an auction in Saint-Germain-en-Laye, as a copy of the work of an unknown master, recognized by experts of the Pushkin Museum as the original of Titian.

The “Venus and Adonis” of different years that came out of Titian’s workshop are not identical: while maintaining the overall compositional solution, they differ in nuances. In other versions, Titian eliminated the similarities between Adonis and Philip II, the "Roman" Adonis is dressed in a hunting hat, and Adonis "Moscow" is the owner of the most classical head - which is not surprising: they suggest that this is the earliest original that Titian performed during his stay in Rome or immediately after returning to Venice.
Such frequent repetitions of the same composition, no matter how commonplace, can be explained by market requirements.

This plot became very popular among educated European nobles, and Titian was sensitive to demand. Hunting, as a metaphor for the dangers of human life, and love, struggling to overcome death, find a response in human hearts to this day.

Author: Anna Yesterday
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About the artwork

Art form: Painting

Subject and objects: Mythological scene

Style of art: Renaissance

Technique: Oil

Materials: Canvas

Date of creation: 1554

Size: 186×207 cm

Artwork in selections: 22 selections

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