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Venus in Art History
A closer look 04 Jul 2022

Venus in Art History

Venus is one of the most timeless figures in the history of art. Very few have, like her, been present through antique sculptures as well as Modernist paintings. Venus’ symbolism goes back to mythology, but it has persisted throughout the years. Mostly known for being the goddess of beauty, she is also the goddess of seduction and fertility. Apparently, these themes have not stopped inspiring artists for thousands of years. With Artsper, relive the impact of Venus in art history, through time periods and artistic movements.

Venus during Antiquity, a pioneer

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Alexandros of Antioch, The Venus de Milo, 150-125 BC

The story of Venus starts with mythology, during Antiquity. She is one of the most adored goddesses of Mount Olympus; not only does she represent an ideal of beauty, but she is also crucial in the beginning of life. One of the very first representations of the goddess is the famous Venus de Milo, made between 150 and 125 BC. Even without her arms, she became one of the most influential works of art. Although mostly unknown, the author of the sculpture made a work that would still be influential nowadays. This sculpture creates a lot of conversation mostly due to the mysterious position of her arms, and the fact that she was found randomly at the bottom of a cave.

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The Venus Callipyge, I-II century BC

Another important Venus is the Venus Callipyge. Dating from the 1st or 2nd century BC, she is also the product of an unknown artist. However, her pose teaches us more about her intentions; it has been suggested that the goddess is about to get in the water and that the reason she is looking behind her is to admire her reflection in the water. The very first representations of Venus thus show how admired she was as a powerful goddess and seductive woman.

Venus during the Renaissance, an ode to beauty

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Sandro Botticelli, The Birth of Venus, 1482-85

The figure of Venus certainly reaches the peak of her popularity during the Renaissance. It was very common during this period to include mythological and historical references in paintings, which constituted proof of culture and refinement. One of the most famous mythological paintings is without a doubt The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. Here, Venus is clearly the main figure, admired by the people surrounding her. This innocent-looking work was in reality controversial and hidden for a long time, as she hides a few erotic symbols. Indeed, let us not forget that Venus is also considered the goddess of desire. This work thus depicts, in a way, the birth of desire, which was considered too erotic for the time.

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Titian, The Venus of Urbino, 1534

Another important Renaissance Venus that had an important place in art history is Titian’s Venus of Urbino. Venus is in a rather suggestive pose, and she looks us right in the eyes. Titian depicts Venus as a “reclining nude”, a common pose in art history. It is even suggested that the mythical painting Olympia by Manet was a direct response to this work by Titian. The seductive attitude of Venus in Renaissance paintings thus persists with every generation of artists.

The Baroque Venus

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Diego Velazquez, Rokeby Venus, 1647

During the Baroque period, Venus is less hidden, she shows us her beauty with pride. The Rokeby Venus by Diego Velazquez depicts her, as usual, reclined and relaxed. The artist also uses one of the goddess’ attributes: the mirror, with which she can contemplate herself, while still facing the public. We can find the same visual language in Venus in Front of the Mirror by the famous Peter Paul Rubens. In both works, we can admire her back but still feel close to her through the mirror. The Baroque Venus is thus less modest, and even a little bit playful.

A Modern Venus?

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Mario Sironi, Venus or Nude with Fruit Bowl, 1923

With the emergence of movements such as Abstraction or Impressionism, the figure of Venus loses in popularity for a moment. These movements only rarely used antique references and preferred depicting the major changes brought about by Modernism. However, artists such as Mario Sironi still place Venus at the center of some portraits. Venus is reinvented here in the artist’s usual style, dark and massive.

Venus and contemporary art

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Fernando Botero, Venus, 1996

Against all odds, Venus became popular again in contemporary art. Whether it is in street art or in Abstract sculpture, the goddess is still very much present, but in different forms. Fernando Botero‘s Venus, for example, uses the same visual language as Venus’ traditional sculptures while also depicting her in his usual style.

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Jisbar, Ocean & Venus, 2022

The street artist Jisbar has also included the goddess in a few of his works. He reuses the Venus de Milo as well as Botticelli’s but transforms it into a clearly unusual and contemporary work. He thus turns the goddess into a Pop Art icon, a timeless figure who even looks good in a Street-Art composition.

To conclude, the goddess of beauty has been constantly present throughout the various times of art history. She has been through the thin and precise brushstrokes of the Renaissance, the voluptuous forms of the Baroque, and sometime later, the graffiti of Street Art. Ultimately, the depictions of Venus in art history enable us to witness the fascinating evolution of human creativity through time.

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