Venus of Urbino is a work of art that deserves elaboration and discussion. It was commissioned to Titian by the Duke of Urbino around the year 1534. It is an oil on canvas painting, and the purpose of its creation is generally ascribed as being a wedding present for the Duke.
There is a great amount of historical relevance to this work. Perhaps the best place to begin is to compare Titian’s depiction of Venus against interpretations from other artists. Botticelli, like Titian, shows the curves of Venus’ body, as does Piero di Cosimo in Venus, Mars and Cupid.
Not all Renaissance painters, though, attempted to capture the beauty of the female body in Venus, the most famous example being the single images of Lucas Cranach the Elder.
A key difference between Botticelli and Cosimo’s curved depictions of Venus and Titian’s is the eroticism of the pose. Venus, being the Greek goddess of love, certainly has connotations of eroticism in her nature. Some classical depictions of Venus, that being before the birth of Christ, depict her in a stoic, divine way. Some statues that have been discovered in Northern Africa, for instance, have drawn immediate comparisons to Isis, the Egyptian goddess of health, marriage and wisdom.
In a similar way, Botticelli and Cosimo depict a lovely woman but remove elements of erotic sexuality from the portrait.
Titian does not follow the same path. Instead, he crafts a painting in which the curves and body of Venus are sexually suggestive to the viewer. When the subject of a painting is staring at you, there is special significance that the artist is trying to render. Here, Venus is staring directly at the viewer, drawing him in to participate. I use the pronoun “him” because this painting, as a present for the Duke, was meant, in part, to stir erotic feelings in the man for his wedding night.
The emphasis on the body of Venus is both direct and subtle in this painting. It is direct by its lighting, the body of Venus being the brightest part of the painting. But it is also subtle because of the background behind the subject. Titian intentionally blackens the background to emphasize the subject, and uses a straight line for the wall behind her. Having half of her body emphasized by a blackened background and a straight line not only emphasizes her lightened body, but also its natural curves.
Interesting stuff! See you next week!