CRANACH, Lucas the Elder
(b. 1472, Kronach, d. 1553, Weimar)

Venus and Cupid

Oil on beech panel, diameter 12 cm
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

This small roundel shows the full-length nude figures of the goddess Venus and her son Cupid on a strip of pebble-strewn earth before a black background. It belongs to a group of small roundels by the artist that depict various biblical, mythological, historical, and portrait subjects. The example of Italian medals and circular plaquettes and the work of the medalist Hans Schwarz in Augsburg may have inspired Cranach to choose a round format. The production of these paintings appears to have been limited to the period 1527-29.

Cranach often treated the theme of Venus and Cupid, but this excellently preserved panel is the only version in a round format. Playing coquettishly with her veil and glancing at the viewer, Venus ignores Cupid, who is agitated by the situation. His arrow is missing, suggesting that he has been disarmed and is powerless against his mother. The picture was likely intended for display in a personal studiolo. Cranach might have painted the roundel not on commission but on speculation, to be sold to discerning collectors already conditioned by the tradition of medals and plaquettes to appreciate such refined work.

The present roundel is remarkable for its confident, efficient, and apparently very rapid brushwork.