Venus and Cupid, late 1520s
Lorenzo Lotto (Italian, Venetian, ca. 1480–1556)
Oil on canvas; 36 3/8 x 43 7/8 in. (92.4 x 111.4 cm)
Purchase, Mrs. Charles Wrightsman Gift, in honor of Marietta Tree, 1986 (1986.138)
In this playful and evocative work, the brilliant Venetian artist Lorenzo Lotto has created a paradigmatic marriage painting, the visual equivalent of a poetic epithalamium, or marriage poem. These lyrical, ancient poems or songs were performed at weddings and often began with verses in which Venus was roused from her bower to bless the bride and groom. There was a widespread revival of the form during the Renaissance. Lotto's genius was to wed contemporary symbols—such as the Venetian bridal tiara and a cupid who urinates to symbolize fertility—to the underlying classical imagery.
Although we do not know for whom this unique painting was done, it may have been for a client in Bergamo, where Lotto lived for a decade until 1525, and where, tantalizingly, a Sposalitio d'Amore (Marriage of Love) was recorded in the Tassi collection in the seventeenth century.