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Venus, Adonis, and Cupid

Annibale Carracci

Venus, Adonis, and Cupid

Annibale Carracci
  • Date: 1590
  • Style: Baroque
  • Genre: mythological painting
  • Media: oil, canvas
  • Tag: Greek-and-Roman-Mythology, gods-and-goddesses, Cupid-and-Psyche, Adonis, Aphrodite/Venus
  • Dimensions: 212 x 268 cm
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Venus, Adonis and Cupid is a painting created c. 1595 by Annibale Carracci. The painting is in the Museo del Prado, Madrid. Annibale Carracci was one of the most well known Italian Baroque painters of the seventeenth century. The Carracci brothers established an academy of art called Accademia degli Incamminati, which pioneered the development of Bolognese Painting. Annibale Carracci and Caravaggio were among the most influential artists of this century, who through their unique artistic styles led to the transition from Mannerist to Baroque. Annibale was born in Bologna in 1560 and died in Rome in 1609.

Venus, Adonis and Cupid illustrates the influence of known artists such as Titian, Correggio, Veronese, as well as ancient Greek sculptures. Venus, Adonis and Cupid has three main figures, arranged in a forest landscape: Venus holding Cupid who points at her and Venus looking at Adonis across from her as Adonis looks back. Adonis is accompanied by his hunting dogs as he moves the tree branches and reveals Venus. The painting is arranged diagonally, with loose and fine brushstrokes giving it a naturalistic look. The colors are muted throughout most of the piece but vivid in the figures, drawing the viewer’s attention. This composition is influenced strongly by Veronese.

The myth of Venus and Adonis was first told in Ovid’s Metamorphosis: Book X. This is the most widely accepted version of the myth. Adonis was a handsome young man, more beautiful than even the Gods, although his creation was from an incestuous union. Venus was playing with her son Cupid in the woods and was punctured in the chest by one of his arrows. The wound was deeper than she thought, and before it healed she witnessed Adonis. She immediately fell passionately in love with him and forgot about her other lovers and her life on Olympus. She followed him and helped him with his hunting, dressing like Diana. She warned him that “bravery is unsafe when faced with the brave. Do not be foolish, beware of endangering me, and do not provoke the creatures nature has armed, lest your glory is to my great cost.” When Venus left by her swans to the skies, Adonis provoked a wild boar and was killed. She fled to his aid but was too late so she turned his blood into a flower, which would bloom each year to remind her of her grief and their love.

Venus, Adonis and Cupid illustrates Ovid’s Myth. Annibale captures the scene when the lovers first meet. The blood from Cupid’s arrow can still be seen on Venus's chest. The scene eliminates the dramatic and narrative elements and focuses on the emotional ones, portrayed through gestures and eye contact. The “sensuality of the encounter is conveyed through the three dimensionality of the volumes and the gentle chiaroscuro,” particularly seen in Venus. Annibale was strongly influenced by Correggio in this element, as well as the use of gestures to engage the viewer. The scene is also directly correlated with Titian’s poesia, a series of mythological paintings for Felipe II, among them Venus and Adonis. The use of the three figures as well as the poetic interpretation of the myth is reminiscent to Titian’s painting. Annibale crosses the realm of artistic style between realism and ideal classicalism in this painting. His earlier works, such as The Bean Eater, reflect just one of Annibale’s impressive range of artwork and his capability to produce realistic works. He paints genre scenes, landscapes, portraits, mythological/classical scenes, as well as caricatures and religious commissions.

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