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Venus and Adonis
Veronese, Paolo (Paolo Cagliari)
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Veronese, Paolo (Paolo Cagliari)

Verona, 1528 - Venice, 1588

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Venus and Adonis

Ca. 1580. Oil on canvas.
Room 026

Like its pair, Cephalus and Procris (Strasbourg Museum, inv. 634, oil on canvas, 162 x 185 cm), this canvas illustrates a passage from the Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid. Both stories involve love cut short by death, in this case that of Adonis. Veronese conveys the grief of Venus, goddess of love, as she presages the death of her lover at the hunt. Painted after a period in Rome, Veronese used the Hellenistic sculpture The Boy with the Goose for the figure of Cupid, while Adonis recalls the Endymion figure on a Roman sarcophagus in San Giovanni Laterano. Velázquez acquired this canvas during his second trip to Italy (1649-1651).

The figures in the painting are life-size. Venus is fair skinned and has rosy cheeks and lips, following an ideal of beauty explained in writing since Antiquity, and renewed in the poetry of Petrarch. She is the goddess of beauty, love, and fertility, and is as beautiful here as an anthropomorphic understanding of the gods allows. Veronese has always been recognised as a painter of beauty. Marco Boschini, the famous apologist of Venetian painting, wrote in La carta del navegar pitoresco (1660:) "When I [Venus] wanted to be portrayed, I went to Paolo, who knows to imitate my beautiful features better than anyone". Leonardo and Raphael are more easily recognised than Veronese for their faith in the geometric basis of beauty but in the oval face of the goddess you will see this idea wonderfully realised.

The seated, contrapposto pose of Venus was inspired by an ancient statue of a crouching Aphrodite surprised at her bath that is sometimes attributed to the sculptor Doidalsas of Bithynia. It was famous because it managed to combine ideal erotic beauty and naturalism. Those remained the goals for many artists during the Renaissance. In our painting, Venus is shown covering her naked upper body with one of her arms, as much as this is possible. She is cast in the guise of a fashionable Venetian temptress. She cools Adonis with a flag-fan and wears a gold bracelet, a pearl necklace, and carefully coiffured hair. The verdant, luscious surroundings recall the ideal place for love as this was described in ancient and contemporary pastoral poetry. The contrast between the tempting nakedness of the goddess and her expression is dramatic. Her parted mouth, wide-open eyes, and lifted brow express surprise; soon she will feel an intense emotional pain. As Ovid tells the story (in book X of the Metamorphoses), Venus had fearfully warned the young hunter that "boars have the force of lightning in their curving tusks". But the dogs would find the trail of one such animal and lead Adonis to it. It would end his life.

The helplessness of Venus in this image is heart-wrenching. She has just noticed Cupid holding back one of the hounds. The child has dropped his bow and barely manages to hold on to the quiver with his legs - the position of the quiver and the attitude of the standing dog are hints of sex and hunt. Adonis lies on Venus’s lap, his right hand leaning on a hunting horn. (Next to it, on the ground, is a strange object; it looks like a glass with a golden rim inserted in a fur sleeve.) The sleep of Adonis evokes the recent affair. It also anticipates his death - his position recalls the dead Christ in familiar compositions of the Virgin with the lifeless body of her son (the Pietà).

Like Venus, the young hunter wears garments of heavy cloth. Hers is purple-blue, with a floral pattern inspired in Ottoman models. His is a complementary bright orange. They do justice to Veronese’s fame as a painter of vibrant colours, and they are a reminder that one of the virtues of our artist is that he teaches us to be lovers of beauty - especially the beauty of colours and chromatic harmony. The colour orange is most striking here. Veronese created this bright hue by combining minium and the rare pigment realgar, the only pure orange pigment available at the time, which contained arsenic (it was used to kill rats). Orange is relatively frequent in the paintings of Veronese but was otherwise unusual at the time - it is more common in pictures from Venice than from other places (Vergara, Alejandro, in Mythological Passions, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2021, pp. 126-128).


Technical data

Related artworks

Venus and Adonis
Lithographic aquatint, Scraper, Crayon lithography on wove paper, 1826 - 1829
Real Establecimiento Litográfico de Madrid
Museo del Prado, sala de la reina Isabel II
Gelatin / Collodion on photographic paper, Ca. 1899
Laurent y Minier, Juan
Inventory number
Veronese, Paolo (Paolo Cagliari)
Venus and Adonis
Ca. 1580
Height: 162 cm; Width: 191 cm
Royal Collection (New Royal Palace, Madrid, “paso de tribuna y trascuartos”, 1772, nº 1078; New Royal Palace, Madrid, “antecámara”, 1794, nº 1078; Royal Palace, Madrid, “antecámara”, 1814-1818, s.n.)

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Other inventories +

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 1078.
Paso de Tribuna y Trascuartos [...] [12805-12806] 1078-41 / Dos cuadros de la fábula de Venus y Adonis durmiendo con Cupido que esta agarrado a vno de los Perros y la Venus le hace aire con vna banderilla y el compañero de otra fábula de dos varas y media en quadro de Pablo Verones

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1794. Núm. 1078.
Antecámara [...] {15} 41 y 1078 / Dos [quadros] de dos vs. y mª. de alto, dos y quarta de ancho: El primero Adonis en los brazos de Venus, un Cupidillo y perros de caza, y el 2º. Cefalo y Pocris muerto en sus brazos. Pablo Verones ... 14000

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 482.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 482.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 526.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 843.
Pablo Verones. / 843. Venus y Adonis. / Este, reclinado en el seno de la diosa, duerme tranquilamente, mientras el amor desvia a un perro que se aproxima a su amo, impaciente por partir a la caza. (C.L.) / Alto 7 pies, 7 pulg; ancho 6 pies, 10 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 843.

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. s. n..
Antecámara [...] {21147} Tres varas alto dos y media ancho, Venus y Adonis y Cupido = Verones

Exhibitions +

Mythological Passions: Tiziano, Veronese, Allori, Rubens, Ribera, Poussin, Van Dyck, Velázquez
02.03.2021 - 04.07.2021

06.06.2020 - 25.07.2021

Venecia. Triunfo de la belleza y destrucción de la pintura
20.06.2017 - 24.09.2017

Picasso. Tradición y Vanguardia
06.06.2006 - 03.09.2006

Annibale Carracci's, Venus, Adonis & Cupid
19.04.2005 - 17.07.2005

Le siecle de titien, de Giorgione a Veronese
09.03.1993 - 14.06.1993

Location +

Room 026 (On Display)


Displayed objects +


Update date: 03-09-2022 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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