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Venus and Cupid

Lavinia Fontana

(1552 - 1614) | D.874.15

Date : 1592 | Medium : Oil on canvas

Lavinia Fontana was the daughter of Prospero Fontana, a famous painter of the School of Bologna working during the second half of the 16th century. Initially a close follower of her father’s artistic model, Lavinia rapidly made a reputation for herself as a portrait artist at the court of Bologna, developing a characteristic style that combines a very Italian gracefulness reminiscent of Correggio with the descriptive precision typical of Northern European painters. A transparent veil stitched with gold thread of extraordinary delicacy here reveals more than it conceals of the marmoreal body of this Venus with a slender throat and delicate features, brought out to their best advantage by jewellery of incredible sumptuousness.

This is in fact a disguised portrait, a method of depicting the most prominent courtiers designed to glorify the aristocrat concerned. In this manner, women are portrayed in bust format, with idealised bodies depicted in the image of Diana or, as in this case, Venus. The subject here is probably a lady of the Ruini family, as suggested by a sketch of a similar-looking model by Cristoforo dell’Altissimo, conserved at the Pitti Palace in Florence. It may well have been an engagement portrait sent to the future husband.