Venus with an Organist and CupidCa. 1555. Oil on canvas, 150.2 x 218.2 cm.
Titian painted five images of Venus and music, but those five variations on a single theme were not made for the same client, nor intended to be exhibited together. Set in a villa, they show Venus reclining before a large window. At her feet, an organist (in the versions at the Museo del Prado and the Staatliche Museen in Berlin) or a lutenist (at the Metropolitan Museum of New York and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge) play their instrument as they contemplate the goddess’s nudity. Meanwhile, she looks away, distracted by the presence of a dog, or of Cupid. These works’ typology indicates they date from the final stage in the development of one of Titian’s subgenres: the reclining female nude, which began with his Sleeping Venus (Dresden, Gemäldegalerie) and continued with the Venus of Urbino (Florince, Galleria degli Uffizi). He thus returned to the subject of musicians with nude women in an open space that he had first addressed at the beginning of his career in his Pastoral Concert (Musée du Louvre).
The paintings of Venus and music have been the object of diverse interpretations. Some historians consider them manifestly erotic works with no deeper meaning. Others assign them considerable symbolic content, interpreting them as allegories of the senses from a neo-Platonic perspective that considers sight and hearing the means of knowing beauty and harmony, as defined by Mario Equicola in his Libro di natura d’amore (Venice, 1526). It is not enough, however, to assign the same meaning to all versions without considering the commercial logic and particular circumstances underlying each one. The first version would be one of the two at the Museo del Prado (P420), which is the only one in which the faces of both figures are individualized. In the others, Venus has stereotyped features of the sort visible in other female figures by Titian. In that first version, she wears a wedding ring on her right hand and lacks iconographic elements that would identify her as Venus. Moreover, this is the only version in which she is not accompanied by Cupid. The figures in the garden are exceptional in Titian’s work and are probably a metaphor for a successful marriage. Here, their meaning would be related to such a bond: the dog would allude to happiness, the donkey to eternal love, and the peacock to fecundity.
Titian based Venus and the Organ Player with Cupid on the previous version, transferring the silhouettes of both the main figures and the surrounding elements -the organ, curtain, trees, fountain, animals and the couple walking in the garden- but making small changes that depersonalize the original composition and endow it with greater commercial projection. The most important change was the presence of Cupid in place of the dog. This identifies the woman as Venus, which obliged the artist to modify the upper part of her body and the position of her head and left hand. The other changes were less significant, and involved the musician’s face, the landscape, and the placement of the folds in the curtain and in the velvet blanket on which Venus lies.
Venus and the Organ Player with Cupid was first mentioned in writing in 1626, when Cassiano del Pozzo saw it in the Lower summer quarters at Madrid’s Alcázar Palace. It entered the Museo del Prado in 1838 via the Royal Collection (Text drawn from Falomir, M. in: El Prado en el Ermitage, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2011, pp. 76-77).