The German artist Hans Baldung began his painting studies with a master in Strasbourg at the age of sixteen. Because of his young age he was given the nickname Grien (Green). His oeuvre, which includes many mythological scenes, betrays the influence of the Italian Renaissance. With the rediscovery of the art of classical antiquity, there was renewed interest in human anatomy and the female nude amongst Renaissance artists. Baldung Grien completed Venus and Amor in 1525, as can be seen at the top right of the painting under his initials: HB.
Venus is the Roman goddess of love, eternal beauty and fertility. Alongside Venus stands her son Amor with a flaming arrow in his right hand. Amor is also a personification of love. With his left hand he tugs at Venus’s cloak to get her attention. Amor is blindfolded and sits on a sphere, the symbol for ‘the truth’. If he were to remove his blindfold the truth would reveal itself. For the faithful in the Middle Ages this was a representation that he would discover that physical love is always conquered by the spiritual love for God.
For Baldung Grien the beauty of line and form were paramount, as can be seen from Venus’s cloak and her graceful posture. A remarkable feature is the sharpness of the figures’ contours against the dark background. The lack of expressive brushworks in these outlines makes the figures appear like silhouettes. Baldung Grien is seen as a pioneer of the later Mannerist style, which found its inspiration in the work of Michelangelo and Raphael and is characterised by elongated figures in unnatural, contorted stances.
The scene has another moral. Baldung Grien wants to show us that beauty is fleeting and that we must lead respectful and devoted lives.