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The Toilet of Venus
Albani, Francesco
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Albani, Francesco

Bologna, 1578 - Bologna, 1660

Albani, Francesco See author's file

The Toilet of Venus

1635 - 1640. Oil on canvas.
Room 005

Francesco Albani was a much favoured pupil of Annibale Carracci. His success was partially due to mythological paintings such as The toilet of Venus (P1) and The judgement of Paris (P2), whose refined and lyrical view of nature helped disseminate the classical ideals of the Carracci`s landscapes. The toilet of Venus, c. 1635-40, is one of many versions Albani made of this subject (the most famous are in the Galleria Borghese, Rome, and the Musée du Louvre, Paris).

Venus reclines on a chair as three servants, possibly the Three Graces, attend to her. One carefully curls her hair, while another combs her tresses and a third shows her colleague a long pearl necklace, as though seeking her approval. As if this attention was not sufficient, five putti have momentarily shucked their quivers -placed on the ground, to the right- in order to help attend to the most beautiful of the goddesses. They perform lesser tasks, such as tying her sandals, holding a mirror up to her, or preparing combs, jewels or fresh flowers. This group of figures, as well as the fountain topped by a sculptural group at the right of the composition, are almost identical to the ones Albani painted for the The toilet of Venus now in the Musée du Louvre, which comes from a well-known set of canvases he began around 1621 for Ferdinando Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua. Disagreements with Gonzaga led Albani to continue the series for another patron, Cardinal Giovanni Carlo de Medici.

The original source of both works was Venus adorned by the Graces (National Gallery of Art, Washington), a panel that Albani`s teacher, Annibale Carracci, painted around 1590-95.

Albani must have drawn inspiration from this work around 1610 when, possibly because of Annibale`s death, he had to complete a Toilet of Venus intended to form a pair with his teacher`s Diana and Callisto, 1598-99 (Duke of Sutherland collection). Compared with the panel in Washington, however, Albani`s group appears less articulated in space, and this, along with the characteristic porcelain whiteness of his nudes and other details such as the strict profile of the chair on which Venus is sitting, endows it with the air of a luminous classical frieze standing out against a leafy wood.

The iconographic source for the rather rare subject of Venus being groomed by the Graces may lie, as Donald Posner suggested in regard to Carracci`s version, in Homer`s Odyssey. There, Venus is said to have committed adultery with Mars and then fled to Cypress, where: The Graces washed her and anointed her with immortal oil, things that increase the splendour of the gods who live forever, and they dressed her in desirable clothes that were a wonder to behold.

Despite its relative rarity, the subject of Venus and the Three Graces was frequently explored, with similar elements, by artists from Albani`s circle at around the same time he began the series now at the Louvre. It appears, for example, in a 1622-23 work by Guercino (private collection), and also in one from 1620-25 by Albani`s childhood friend and later rival Guido Reni, with participation by his workshop (National Gallery, London).

Albani`s The judgement of Paris, c.1650-60 (P2), shows the shepherd prince admiring the beauty of three goddesses competing for the golden apple: Venus, in the centre, accompanied by a dove; Minerva, on the right, identified by her helmet and the weapons lying abandoned on the ground; and Juno, associated with the peacock. In the sky, Cupid hastens to fit an arrow to his bow. As in The toilet of Venus, Albani here eschews action in favour of a placid scene in which the mortal shepherd leans against a tree as he attempts to decide who should receive the apple. On the left, over a landscape enlivened with small waterfalls, we see a river deity, who may be Scamander, running through Mount Ida in the company of some nymphs.

Like The toilet of Venus, this one includes various putti, which some see as an indication of the influence of Titian`s Aldobrandini Bacchanals. The presence of these works in Rome from 1598 onwards certainly had a decisive influence on Albani and his contemporaries. The putti also echo Albani`s own life, however, as he had twelve children and, according to his principal biographer Carlo Cesare Malvasia, the artist actually hung them from the ceiling as models.

A copy of this painting at the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid, has smaller figures and a less-developed landscape.

While this painting and The toilet of Venus are similar in size, they were probably not a pair. Both were at the Buen Retiro Palace, Madrid, and in 1762 were among the works in the Spanish Royal Collection that the prudish Charles III ordered to be destroyed because of their sensuality. The works` immolation was prevented by the Marquis of Esquilache and Anton Raphael Mengs, who greatly admired the classical paintings from Bologna and managed to have them moved to the so-called Casa de Rebeque, near Madrid`s Royal Palace, along with many other works by Titian, Rubens and others. In 1792 the paintings were requested by the Academia de San Fernando as models for the study of colour and were hung in the Sala del Colorido. In 1827 they were taken to the Sala Reservada (Private Room) at the Museo del Prado, which existed until 1838.

González, R., Francesco Albani 'The toilet of Venus' En:. Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, p.112-115


Technical data

Related artworks

The judgement of Paris
Oil on canvas, 1650 - 1660
Albani, Francesco
Inventory number
Albani, Francesco
The Toilet of Venus
1635 - 1640
Height: 114 cm; Width: 171 cm
Royal Collection (Palacio Real Nuevo, Madrid; Casa de Rebeque, 1762, Madrid; estudio de Andrés de la Calleja, 1772, nº 221; Real Academia de San Fernando, Madrid, sala reservada, 1792 - 1827, nº 83).

Bibliography +

Ponz, Antonio, Viage de España: en que se da noticia de las cosas mas apreciables, y dignas de saberse, que hay en ella, VI, Atlas, Madrid, 1794; ed. facs. 1972, pp. 58.

Colección litográfica de cuadros del Rey de España el Señor, I, Madrid, 1826, pp. estampa LXI.

Dayot, Armand, Le Prado de Madrid. Vol. I, I, Editions Pierre Lafitte, París, 1914, pp. 105.

Menéndez Pidal, Ramón, Historia de España, XIX, Espasa-Calpe, Madrid, 1958, pp. 556/ Lám.450.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del S. XVII en España, Universidad Fundación Valdecilla, Madrid, 1965, pp. 78.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del siglo XVII: exposición conmemorativa del ciento cincuenta aniversario de la fundación del Museo del Prado, Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, Madrid, 1970, pp. 28.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972.

Bermejo de la Rica, A., La Mitologia en el Museo del Prado, Editora Nacional, Madrid, 1974, pp. 29.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 5.

Barghahn, Barbara Von, Philip IV and the Golden House of the Buen Retiro in the Tradition of Caesar, Garland PublishingInc, Nueva York, 1986, pp. lám.729.

Fernandez Miranda y Lozana, Fernando, Inventarios Reales. Carlos III. 1789-1790. Vol. I, I, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1988, pp. 78.

El arte en las cortes europeas del siglo XVIII, Comunidad de Madrid, Dirección General de Patrimonio Cultural, Madrid, 1989.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado: inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990, pp. nº660.

Buendía, José Rogelio, El Prado. Colecciones de Pintura, Lunwerg Editores, Barcelona, 1994, pp. 309.

Portús Pérez, Javier, La sala reservada del Museo del Prado y el coleccionismo de pintura al desnudo en la corte española, 1554-1838, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1998.

Puglisi, Catherine R., Francesco Albani, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1999, pp. nº84.

González, R., Francesco Albani 'The toilet of Venus' En:, Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 112-115.

Checa, Fernando, El arte de las naciones. El Barroco como arte global, El arte de las naciones. El Barroco como arte global, Consejo Estatal para la Cultura y las Artes de Puebla, 2016, pp. 74 n.20.

Real Palacio Nuevo. Pinturas, Inventarios Reales. Carlos III. 1789-1790. I, Madrid, pp. 78.

Other inventories +

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 660.
660. El tocador de Venus. / La diosa del amor está sentada en un hermoso jardín, mientras sus ninfas se ocupan graciosa y diligentemente en sus afeites (C.L.) / Alto 4 pies, 1 pulg: ancho 6 pies, 1 pulg, 7 lin

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 660.

Academia, Sala Reservada, 1827. Núm. 83.
Venus sentada y varias Ninfas que la peinan y atavian. / [Autor] Albano / [Alto] 4 [pies] / [Ancho] 6 [pies] 2 [pulgs.]

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 1.
1.-El Tocador de Venus. / Alto 1 metro 14 centímetros. Ancho 1 metro 71 centímetros.-Lienzo. / A lado de una hermosa fuente de mármol, adornada de estatuas, en que se quiebran cristalinos surtidores, y al pié de frondosos árboles que sombrean la verde y limpia grama de un espacioso jardín, la madre del Amor, muellemente reclinada en un sillon de terciopelo carmesí, se mira complacida en un espejo que le pone delante un amorcito, mientras tres ninfas se ocupan en su tocado. Una con un hierro riza el dorado cabello de su frente, otra peina su sedosa madeja, otra apresta un largo hilo de perlas..

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Casa de Rebeque, 1794. Núm. 155.
[763] 155 / Mas de tercia de largo y mas de quarta de alto: Venus con un Cupidillo. Albano ... 3.000

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 221.
Estudio de don Andres de la Calleja [...] [13286-13287] 220-221 / Dos [pinturas] iguales vna del juicio de Paris y otra de Venus tocandose de dos varas de largo y vara y tercia de caida originales de Albano

Inscriptions +

Inscribed in white. Front, lower left area

Inscribed. Frame, back, lower bar

Wood nameplate. Frame, front, lower bar

M.N. PRADO / M00230
Blue scrap of paper. Frame, back, lower bar

M.N.PRADO / 00001
On metallic tablet. Stretcher

Nº 1 [algo borrado]
Inscribed with chalk. Frame, back, upper bar

Inscribed. Frame, back, upper bar

Inscribed in orange. Front, lower left corner

Exhibitions +

El Arte de las Naciones. El Barroco como arte global
18.10.2016 - 20.02.2017

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

El Arte en las Cortes Europeas del siglo XVIII
29.04.1987 - 22.06.1987

Location +

Room 005 (On Display)


Displayed objects +


Flower Arrangement


Looking Glass / Mirror: Espejo de tocador, cuadrangular, de unos 20 x 30 cm., encuadrado en un marco dorado. En la historia de la pintura existen numerosos ejemplos de figuras femeninas ante un espejo. De esa actitud se ha hecho uso repetidamente en muchos cuadros dedicados a Venus, en los que esta suele aparecer contemplando la imagen de su cara en un espejo, tema que ha sido tratado por pintores como Vasari, Carracci, Feuerbach, entre los que destacan de modo especial Tiziano, Rubens y Velázquez. En el Museo del Prado encontramos otros cuadros donde la figura de Venus aparece junto al atributo iconográfico del espejo, como la Ofrenda a Venus (P419) de Tiziano. Con un simbolismo semejante, recreándose ante su propia belleza, existen en el Museo del Prado dos cuadros dedicados a Armida, la protagonista del poema "Jerusalén libertada" -del poeta italiano Torcuato Tasso- junto a su amante Reinaldo: El jardín de Armida (P1831) de David Teniers, y Armida y Reinaldo (P3235) de Luca Giordano. En épocas posteriores, como sucede con la obra de Pedro Casas Abarca, En el tocador (P6442), encontramos figuras femeninas contemplando su rostro en un espejo o sentadas ante un tocador, sin asunto mitológico alguno. Los primeros espejos azogados con una amalgama de estaño empezaron a fabricarse en las vidrierías venecianas a principios del siglo XVI. A partir de ese momento, su producción y uso estuvieron muy extendidos (Fernández Navarro, J. M.; Capel del Águila, F.: El vidrio en la pintura del Museo Nacional del Prado, 2012).
Espejo de tocador, de uso decorativo o suntuario.

Siglo XVII

Fountain / Source

Horn, Natural / Horn, Hunting: Escultura con aerófono formando parte de una fuente, a la derecha de la composición. Parece una trompa natural tipo cuerno, de tubo alargado, cónico y sin agujeros digitales. Posiblemente se trata de la representación estilizada de un aerófono, cuyo carácter funcional como caño de la fuente es más importante que la descripción realista del mismo. La forma en que el intérprete coloca el instrumento hace pensar que se trata de un instrumento de boquilla. Los antecedentes más remotos se encuentran en caracolas y cuernos prehistóricos (Proyecto Iconografía Musical, U.C.M.).
Utilizadas para transmitir información y señales a través del sonido, las trompas naturales son también instrumentos ceremoniales para celebrar a los dioses o herramientas de guerra.


Chair / Armchair



Update date: 09-04-2022 | Registry created on 02-12-2015

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