TIZIANO Vecellio
(b. 1490, Pieve di Cadore, d. 1576, Venezia)

Venus and Adonis

Oil on canvas, 180 x 207 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Between 1553 and 1554 Titian executed for the Habsburgs two classical mythological works of clearly erotic intent which he himself described as "poesie" (mythological fables). These are the Danaë with a Nurse and the Venus and Adonis, both now in the Prado, Madrid. The Venus and Adonis became the prototype for a whole series of replicas of this subject.

Venus, the goddess of love, falls in love with Adonis, a beautiful youth. Her love is not, however, enough to stop him pursuing his favourite pastime, hunting, which will lead to his undoing, for he is gored to death by a boar. There is an interesting letter from Titian to Philip II which deals with this painting. The artist makes a special point of mentioning that he was particularly interested in depicting the body from both sides.

In both paintings the scene of the union of the lovers is bathed in the warm light of sunset, where the diffuse softness of the colours holds sway. The female nudes reveal the continuing inspiration of Michelangelo's sculpture, such as the Dawn and Night from the Medici tombs in Florence. But what is entirely personal to Titian is the quality of the colour, which fragments into patches of dazzling luminosity - a perfect complement to the ecstatic sensuous abandon of the figures.

In its own day Venus and Adonis was considered one of Titian's most erotic works, especially in the compression of Venus' buttocks in her seated pose, but it also suggests the indulgent condescension of a younger man towards the frantic and overprotective reaction of an older woman.