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Venus Adorned by the Graces

February 24, 2011


Venus Adorned by the Graces


Annibale Carracci 1594.

52 3/8 x 67 1/8 in. Oil on panel transferred to canvas.

Now in the National Gallery, Washington D.C.

Annibale Carracci’s mythological scene of Venus Adorned by the Graces is a great example of his influence by and reverence for Renaissance masters.  It is also evidence of Annibale’s attempt at depicting the supernatural in a convincingly natural setting, regardless of idealization (Serooskerken).

There are quite a few quotations and references in this single composition.  The putto holding up the mirror to Venus come from Titian’s Venus with a Mirror (1555).  Carracci discarded Venus’s pudica pose and painted Venus reaching for the mirror, completely exposed.  Instead of a putto placing a wreath around Venus’s head, one of the Graces dresses Venus’s hair in Carracci’s version.

Carracci quotes other masters of the Renaissance as well.  Michelangelo’s Bacchus from 1497 is directly quoted as a sculpture in the background.  The Grace to the far left quotes Leonardo da Vinci’s Leda with the Swan (1504-1508).  Although Leonardo’s piece no longer exists, copies have been preserved.  A copy by Cesare da Sesto (1515-1520) reveals perhaps several more references in the putti.  Carracci has painted several putti in his Venus roaming about the setting, perhaps derived from the two sets of twins in the Leda copy.

Evidently homage to the great painters of the past, Carracci’s Venus also incorporates techniques of Northern Italian artists the Carracci were exposed to.  Titian and Correggio’s sfumtao is seen throughout the piece, as well as a Venetian handling of color.

C. van Tuyll van Serooskerken, et al. “Carracci.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. 23 Feb. 2011 <;.

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