In 1763 Gerhard Morell, the keeper of the Royal Danish Kunstkammer, returned from Amsterdam with more than a hundred new paintings for the royal collections. One of these paintings was Abraham Bloemaerts’ "Venus and Adonis", which he acquired for 150 rigsdaler and which is listed as no. 39 in Morell’s hand-written inventory of the paintings he purchased.
At this point Morell was the driving force behind the modernisation of the old kunstkammer (literally "art chamber"), which had existed since the days of King Frederik III. He wished to create a new and modern gallery at Christiansborg in accordance with the prevalent style and taste of the time. Morell bought a great many paintings, a large portion of which belonged to the Flemish and Dutch schools.
Bloemaert founded the so-called Utrecht School, a group of young artists from Utretcht who went to Rome in the early part of the 17th century and were inspired by artists such as Caravaggio. This painting is regarded as one of Bloemaert’s masterpieces. The harmony, the intensity of the colours, and the lustre of the classical figures against the contrasting landscape behind it testifies to the quality and longevity that Morell added to the collections with his acquisitions.
The tale of Venus and Adonis is related in the ancient poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Here the goddess Venus tries in vain to persuade her mortal lover Adonis to refrain from taking part in the dangerous hunt, but in the background we see Adonis having been slain during the hunt.
In 1604 the art theoretician Karel van Mander I wrote that the Metamorphoses was the artists’ bible because many of the stories from the book were adopted as subject matter within the visual arts. Indeed, Bloemaert could look for inspiration in great artists such as Titian and Rubens, who had already painted the motif.