LE NAIN brothers
(b. 1598/1610, Laon, d. Louis and Antoine: 1648, Mathieu: 1677, Paris)

Venus at the Forge of Vulcan

Oil on canvas, 150 x 116,8 cm
Musée Saint-Denis, Reims

It is unusual for this often repeated mythological subject to be treated as a genre piece, although this occurs in Velázquez's celebrated picture in the Prado, Madrid.

The problem of collaboration of the three Le Nain brothers is highlighted in the Venus at the Forge of Vulcan. It is dated 1641 which was during the last period when all three brothers were alive. In this painting the figure of Venus herself seems an uneasy adaptation of a Renaissance model. Perhaps including an obvious quotation was the artist's way of making it plain to the client that the picture had a well-known precedent.

The rest of the picture, however, reveals great powers of observation. Especially perceptive are the two figures in the background, silhouetted against the light of the furnace. In all the French art of the seventeenth century, this is the first time that a painter has been able to observe nature without adding mannerisms of his own: even Georges de La Tour at his most realistic created an artificial world in which everything was secondary to his fascination with candlelight. Here, the figure on the left glances towards Venus in a completely natural way, and it is this naturalism, which occurs again and again in parts of their pictures, that sets the Le Nain brothers apart from all their French contemporaries.

You can view other representations of Venus and Vulcan in the Web Gallery of Art.