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Venus and Adonis

TitianSecond half of the 16th century

Dulwich Picture Gallery

Dulwich Picture Gallery
London, United Kingdom

This painting represents Titian's interpretation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, when the Venus implores her mortal lover Adonis not to the join a hunt for fear he will meet his death.
Recent conservation has confirmed that the materials used in this work are likely to be 16th-century Venetian and typical of Titian's practice. The strong outlines around the central figures suggest that a cartoon - probably also used for other versions of this painting - was employed in drawing out this composition. Although the overall quality of the brushwork is varied, the virtuosity Adonis's left arm and the exhuberance of his hounds suggest the imput of Titian himself.

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  • Title: Venus and Adonis
  • Date: Second half of the 16th century
  • Physical Dimensions: w1895 x h1828 cm
  • Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil
  • Work Notes: Copy of a studio variant (the so-called 'Barberini type') of Titian's original in the Prado, Madrid.
  • Work Nationality: Italian
  • Support: Canvas
  • Provenance: London, Noel Desenfans, 1802-1807: London, Skinner and Dyke, Desenfans sale, 18 Mar. 1802, lot 191 ('TitianÐThe Departure of Adonis for the Chase'. Descriptive Catalogue, no. 35: 'On the fore-ground of a large landscape, Adonis in his huntsman's cap and dress, is seen holding three dogs and his lance, and comes at the moment of his departure for the chase, to take leave of Venus who endeavours to retain him, but in vain, as Diana, who appears in the sky, is pouring her influence over Adonis. Near them, under some trees, the infant Cupid lies asleep'). Handwritten note in copy of catalogue at The Hague, RKD: '76. [i.e. 7 x 6] -- Venus naked ...' Bt Chalmers for £267.15 (bt in); London, Sir Francis Bourgeois, 1807-1811; Bourgeois Bequest, 1811.
  • Further Information: "Recent conservation work has enabled us to confirm that rather than being a late 17th-century copy, this painting is very likely to have been made in Titian's workshop in the second half of the 16th century. Pigment analysis has indicated that the materials used to make this painting are likely to be 16th-century Venetian, and are consistent with Titian's practice. The gesso ground (gypsum bound with animal glue), for example, is like that found in the majority of Titian and his workshop paintings. The gesso ground would have originally been white but has discoloured with age, lessening the tonal contrast of the painting. Other pigments have discoloured over time too. The sky would have been a brilliant blue, the landscape much greener and Venus's discarded garment a rich crimson. Infrared reflectography has revealed strong outlines around the central figures of Venus and Adonis, suggesting that a cartoon - probably also used for the other versions of this painting - was employed in the drawing out of the composition. Although the overall quality of the brushwork is varied, there are some high quality passages, such as Adonis's left arm, which might suggest the input of Titian himself. The painting presents Titian's interpretation of the last meeting of the goddess Venus and her mortal lover Adonis from Book X of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Cupid, whose arrow accidentally wounded his mother and caused her to fall in love with Adonis, sleeps under a tree, blissfully unaware of the drama before him. Venus implores Adonis not to join the hunt for fear he will meet his death; the hunter is determined, however, and pulls away from her, spear in hand, towards his eager hounds. In Ovid's text, Venus takes off from this final meeting in her swan-driven chariot, seen here in the upper right. Ovid tells us that she turned back upon hearing Adonis's death moans, her beloved having being fatally wounded by a boar during the hunt."
  • After: Titian
  • Acquisition Method: Bourgeois, Sir Peter Francis (Bequest, 1811)

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