Social History of Art

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16th Italy

Veronese, Venus, Mars, and Cupid, detail, Met

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Veronese, Venus, Mars, and Cupid, detail, Met
A rare Venus, Mars, and Cupid as a family group, grounded in the republican political values of Venice. In contrast to the more licentious art of the sixteenth-century Hapsburg, Medicean, and French courts, sixteenth-century Venice occasionally patronized a more moderate, republican imagery where sexuality was restrained by conjugal themes. Veronese's frescoes at Villa Barbaro are another good example and include Venus nursing Cupid as if she were just another Venetian pastoral Madonna and Child. Here Mars is disarmed by love, tamed and civilized in line with ideas found in Ovid and in Venetian humanist literature (Bembo's "Gli Asolani"). Subordinated to Venus, Mars becomes almost another child at her breast. The sculptured satyr looking down from crumbling cornice and the horse tied up and restrained by a second Amor both image the wild, sexual freedom Mars has surrendered in submitting to the bonds of matrimony (allegorized literally in the Cupid below who ties Mars to Venus). In praising Mars and Venus in nuptial terms or in marriage poems, classical and Renaissance writers like Claudian and Ficino ignored the fact that Mars and Venus were not married. Mantegna overlooked this inconvenient fact in his Parnassus when he allegorized the conjugal taming of Mars by Venus for Isabella d'Este.
Posted by Robert Baldwin on September 15, 2010 Full Size| Slideshow