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

Venus with Organist and Cupid

1548
Oil on canvas, 148 x 217 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

The great Venetian master created several paintings depicting the nude Venus in the company of male musicians. Each of these works has multiple allegorical meanings. In this picture the connection between music and love can be sensed even more directly than in earlier astrological illustrations. Painters have characterized the children of Venus (that is, those who were born under the sign of Taurus the Bull or Libra the Scales) with scenes of love-making and other earthly pleasures: games, feasts, bathing, dancing, excursions, and especially music-playing. From the complex astrological series of the sixteenth century developed the picture type "Venus with Musician", then the amorous scenes and pastoral concerts which remained fashionable for another two hundred years.

In Titian's painting the contact between the enamoured youth and the goddess reveals something else, too. The canvas is dominated by the reclining nude figure on the couch casually leaning on her elbow and personifying beauty with her full body and the vibrant liveliness of her skin. The organ-player has his back toward her, but he openly turns his head while playing and derives inspiration from the sight of such beauty. This is a clear presentation of the inspiration theme in which Venus fulfills the role of the Muse. Her demeanour is ceremonial and passive; she pays no attention to the musician while he - and this is similar in each variant - makes great effort to make eye contact. It appears as if he pays reverence to such physical beauty by playing his music.

In addition, this painting can be considered the representation of Sight and Hearing. The active role of the glance and the importance of vision refer to the first sense, while the music-playing to the second. We can also assume that the stag running across the background became part of this picture in connection with Hearing, while the well, decorated with the figure of a faun holding an urn, is the well-spring of love.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 15 minutes):
George Frideric Handel: Concert for Organ in F major op. 4 No. 4