Allegory of Venus and Cupid


Allegory of Venus and Cupid
(1540s; London, National Gallery)
   Cosimo I de' Medici commissioned this work from Bronzino to be given to King Francis I of France. As a work meant for an erudite audience, it features a complex iconographic program that is no longer completely understood. The scene is revealed by Father Time (Chronos) and his daughter Truth, who lift the drapery that once covered the figures. In the center are Venus, holding the apple of Hesperides she won from Paris for her beauty, and her son Cupid, fondling her breast and kissing her. At Cupid's feet, Venus' doves mimic the behavior of mother and son. On the left, an old woman, identified variously as Envy, Despair, or Syphilis, tears out her hair, while on the right is Inconstancy with her scaly tail, lion legs, honeycomb, and scorpion. In front of her, Folly (sometimes also identified as Jest or Pleasure) throws rose petals at Venus. The scene presents an erotic image with unusual color combinations of violets, pinks, and soft greens set against the figures' pale ivory complexions. These elements, along with the circular composition with central void and the elongated figures in impossible poses, place the work among the top masterpieces of the Mannerist style.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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