Paolo Veronese (Paolo Caliari) (Italian, Venetian, 15281588)
Oil on canvas; 81 x 63 3/8 in. (205.7 x 161 cm)
John Stewart Kennedy Fund, 1910 (10.189)
This picture is one of five great paintings by Veronese that formed part of the collection of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. Two of these pictures, the Allegory of Wisdom and Strength and the Allegory of Virtue and Vice, are now in the Frick Collection, New York, and a third, Hermes, Herse and Aglauros, is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge. The fourth is known through a copy in Vienna. All five paintings were subsequently owned by Queen Christina of Sweden (after 1648) and were later in the Orléans collection. It has been suggested that the paintings were commissioned at the time of the coronation of Rudolf II in 1576, but it is doubtful they were planned as a series, and the present picture may have been painted at a somewhat earlier time.
The basic subject of the painting seems clear enough: Cupid is tying the plump white leg of the goddess of love to that of the god of war, thus "uniting" them in love, calming the usually belligerent Mars and producing harmony and goodwill. Above all, however, the painting extols the sensual. At the very center is Mars' lavish satin cloak, shimmering in the light, and behind it the tour-de-force depiction of the satyr supporting a broken entablature. Although nude, Venus sets off her beauty by wearing jewelrystrands of pearls in her hair and around her throat, pearl earrings, exquisite gold bracelets, and a slender cinched belt draped across her chest that resembles the strap of a quiver. The foliage is luxuriant, and billowy clouds race across a blue-green sky.