Venus and Adonis

Recent conservation work has enabled us to confirm that rather than being a late 17th-century copy, this painting is very likely to have been made in Titian's workshop in the second half of the 16th century. Pigment analysis has indicated that the materials used to make this painting are likely to be 16th-century Venetian, and are consistent with Titian's practice. The gesso ground (gypsum bound with animal glue), for example, is like that found in the majority of Titian and his workshop paintings. The gesso ground would have originally been white but has discoloured with age, lessening the tonal contrast of the painting. Other pigments have discoloured over time too. The sky would have been a brilliant blue, the landscape much greener and Venus's discarded garment a rich crimson. Infrared reflectography has revealed strong outlines around the central figures of Venus and Adonis, suggesting that a cartoon - probably also used for the other versions of this painting - was employed in the drawing out of the composition. Although the overall quality of the brushwork is varied, there are some high quality passages, such as Adonis's left arm, which might suggest the input of Titian himself. The painting presents Titian's interpretation of the last meeting of the goddess Venus and her mortal lover Adonis from Book X of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Cupid, whose arrow accidentally wounded his mother and caused her to fall in love with Adonis, sleeps under a tree, blissfully unaware of the drama before him. Venus implores Adonis not to join the hunt for fear he will meet his death; the hunter is determined, however, and pulls away from her, spear in hand, towards his eager hounds. In Ovid's text, Venus takes off from this final meeting in her swan-driven chariot, seen here in the upper right. Ovid tells us that she turned back upon hearing Adonis's death moans, her beloved having being fatally wounded by a boar during the hunt.

Currently on display

Workshop of Titian
Gallery 4 - East Wall
182.8 x 189.5 cm
Oil on canvas
Bourgeois Bequest, 1811
Accession number
Adopted in 2012 in memory of Anthony Boyle, 1935-2009. Ars longa, vita brevis.