Venus and Adonis 1554 Titian Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Venus and Adonis is the 2nd of the poesie by Titian for Philip II. It was in progress in the year 1553; it was sent to London to the Spanish prince on September 1554, an act of his marriage to the princess of England, Mary Tudor.

When it arrived, it was in a damaged state, and Philip wrote a letter on December 6 complaining about this. Although areas of this picture have undergone a great deal of repainting, particularly Venus' back, it has still retained most of its original freshness plus it still makes a stunning impression.

The painting is set at dawn, and it shows a young Adonis as he pulls himself from his lover, Venus. He is carrying a feathered dart or spear. In the 16th century, this weapon was used in hunting. The leads of the 3 hounds are wound around Adonis' arm at right. Also, under the trees at left, behind them, Cupid lies asleep.

The Cupid's quiver of arrows and bow are hanging from a tree, meaning this isn't a time for love. A figure is riding a chariot high in the sky; this is either Sol, Apollo or Venus, representing the dawn. Venus is sitting on a rock that is covered with a beautiful, rich tablecloth that has gold buttons and braid edges. Adonis has a horn that is hanging from his belt, and his dress is classical, which was taken from Roman sculptures.

It's believed that Ovid, a Roman poet, was the main source, but people have suggested other visual and literary sources. In Book X of the Metamorphoses by Ovid, Adonis is an attractive youth and a royal orphan. He spends his time hunting. A Cupid arrow hits Venus by mistake, and she falls in love with Adonis. They start to hunt together, but she was avoiding the fiercer animals; she warns him about those animals, citing the Atlanta story. One day Adonis went hunting alone, and a wild boar gores him. While in her chariot in the sky, Venus hears his cries, but can't save him.

Prado type versions heights vary from 160 to 200 centimetres, but the widths are consistent at 190 to 200 centimetres. The version currently in Museo del Prado (main Spanish national art museum) is the earliest of all the surviving versions. It wasn't documented until 1626, but it's considered as the painting that's documented as despatched to Philip II in London by TitiDanaë, which is the 1st of the poesie delivered in 1553, but they aren't the same in size. A later Danaë version is now displayed in the same place in the Prado, together with other Titians.

In a letter, Titian explained to Philip II that the 2 paintings would offer contrasting rear and front views of a naked Venus, therefore allowing the picture to compete with the sculpture. That apart, contemporary accounts reveal the powerful effect the paintings definitely had on male viewers.