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The Genius of Painting
Mehus, Lieven
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Mehus, Lieven

Oudenaarde, Belgium, 1621 - Florence, 1691

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The Genius of Painting

Ca. 1650. Oil on canvas.
Room 004

Born in Flanders, Livio Mehus moved to Milan at a young age and is thus often considered an artist of the Italian school. He is recorded in Rome at the age of fourteen and later in Florence, Lucca and around Genoa. He also worked successively in Piamonte and Lombardy. There is ample documentation of his activity as a painter of frescoes and oils, an expert on northern Italian painting and a restorer for the Medicis, a family for which he did considerable work.

Crowned with a laurel wreath, the genius of painting is shown copying Titian’s Martyrdom of Saint Peter, 1527-29, which was originally in the Venetian Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo but later destroyed. Titian’s original appears at the left of the composition, along with the altar on which it hung. Mehus’s self-portrait occupies the centre of the canvas and looks out at the viewer.

This work is paired with the Genius of sculpture, c.1650, now at the Galleria Palatina in Florence. In that work Mehus draws the viewer’s attention to a group of classical sculptures in the middle ground while, on the right, the genius of sculpture sketches those archaeological vestiges.

The two works were painted to hang side by side, constituting a significant pair. His Genius of sculpture exalts the supremacy of Greco-Latin sculpture as a universal ideal of beauty and thus serves as an ineluctable reference for any artist. It also emphasises the importance of drawing as an essential element in an artist’s education. The reference to drawing is indicated by the manner in which the genius carefully studies the classical ruins, revealing the relation between the two paradigms championed by these works: ancient Roman sculpture and the defence of drawing.

The Museo del Prado’s work offers the opposite aesthetic option, in which the genius paints (rather than draws) a recognisable modern canvas by Titian, an artist customarily presented as a paradigm of the Venetian school that elevated colour over drawing. Thus, through these two works, Mehus offers a complete program covering two apparently antithetical aesthetic options, presenting himself as a proponent of both.

His proposal is even more ambitious for its inclusion, in both works, of a self-portrait that draws the viewer into the scene. In that sense, despite the works’ respective titles, their true protagonists are not the geniuses, nor even the defence of opposing artistic alternatives, but rather Mehus, who presents himself as a painter gifted with universal knowledge, who knows and esteems not only the art of Antiquity but also the most celebrated and legendary figures of his time, as well as their respective positions regarding drawing and colour, and their centres of production: Rome and Venice (Úbeda de los Cobos, A.: Italian Masterpieces. From Spain´s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, 2014, p. 70).

Technical data

Inventory number
Mehus, Lieven
The Genius of Painting
Ca. 1650
Height: 70 cm; Width: 80 cm
Acquired from Jesús Iribas de Miguel, 2000.

Bibliography +

Úbeda, Andrés, El Genio de la pintura, de Livio Mehus, Museo del Prado: Memoria de actividades / Informes y datos estadísticos, 2000, pp. 51.

Chiarini, Marco, Livio Mehus : Un Pittore Barocco Alla Corte Dei Medici (1627..., Sillabe: Ministerio Per i Beni e, Livorno ; Firenze, 2000, pp. nº 1.

Obras adscritas al Museo Nacional del Prado en el año 2000, Boletín del Museo del Prado, XIX, 2001, pp. 202.

Aterido Fernández, Ángel, ''El Genio de Rubens'' pintado por Luca Giordano, Goya: Revista de Arte, 316-7, 2007, pp. 61 / lám. 10.

Ubeda de los Cobos, A, Livio Mehus 'Genius of painting' En:, Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 70.

Barbolani di Montanto, N., L' Antico e Venezia nei disegni di Livio Mehus, Paragone, LXVIII n 811-813 n.135-136, 2017, pp. 28-55 l.20.

Mason, Stefania, La peinture vénitienne du XVIIe siècle: un dialogue entre langues différentes et admiration partagée, En: Borean, Linda y Mason, Stefania (comisarias), Rencontres à Venise. Étrangers et vénitiens dans l'art du XVIIe siècle, catálogo de exposición, Silvana, Ajaccio, 2018, pp. 17-34 [27].

Other inventories +

Inv. Nuevas Adquisiciones (iniciado en 1856). Núm. 2566.

Exhibitions +

Meta-painting. A Journey to the Idea of Art
15.11.2016 - 19.02.2017

Italian Masterpieces from Spain's Royal Court. Museo Nacional del Prado
16.05.2014 - 31.08.2014

Bibliotheca Artis: Treasures from the Museo del Prado library
05.10.2010 - 30.01.2011

Location +

Room 004 (On Display)


Displayed objects +





Update date: 04-11-2021 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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