fbpx
Connect with us

DailyArtMagazine.com – Art History Stories

Painting of the Week: Diego Velázquez, The Rokeby Venus

Diego Velázquez, The Rokeby Venus, 1644, National Gallery, London
Diego Velázquez, The Rokeby Venus, 1644, National Gallery, London, UK. Detail.

Painting of the Week

Painting of the Week: Diego Velázquez, The Rokeby Venus

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599–1660) was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV and one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age and European Baroque. And The Rokeby Venus is his only surviving nude, three others are mentioned in Spanish inventories and are now sadly lost.

In the period of Spanish Inquisition, it was bold to paint nudes and the fact that Velázquez could get away with it certifies his high position in society as a court painter. Thankfully, we can still enjoy this one, so let’s do so ( and don’t take it for granted either; it had a close brush with destruction).

Velázquez’s most famous painting is without a doubt Las Meninas. On the surface it is just another group court portrait. But if you just scratch this surface, a thousand other meanings come through. To mention just a few, it is also a Velázquez self-portrait, as we can see the reflection of the royal couple in the mirror (were they standing where we are standing?), who are the people in the background? For that matter who are the people in the foreground, too? What’s with the dog?

Today, though, we are going to look at a lot calmer and less crowded painting, yet no less revolutionary and full of meanings. Again, on the surface, it is yet another depiction of Venus. There is a long tradition of depicting Venus reclining or looking in the mirror. Here Velázquez combines those two motives and to add to that portrays Venus turned away from the viewer. All those things have been done before in art, but Velázquez was the first painter to bring it together.

Diego Velázquez, The Rokeby Venus, 1644, National Gallery, London
Diego Velázquez, The Rokeby Venus, 1644, National Gallery, London, UK.

The folds of the bedsheets accentuate the gentle arch of Venus’ body. The silkiness of her skin is echoed by them and even more pronounced by the color contrast. The use of color is sparing, but masterful. The painting plays out between large areas of nuanced and contrasting colors: dark steel of the bedsheet, red curtain, and beige wall provide a perfect background to enhance Venus’ pale, almost translucent body. Also, in my personal opinion, it is one of the most beautiful hips in art, if not the best bum.

Diego Velázquez, The Rokeby Venus, 1644, National Gallery, London (detail)
Diego Velázquez, The Rokeby Venus, 1644, National Gallery, London, UK. Detail.

You can see the Cupid focuses on the angle of the mirror. It is for a reason, do not be fooled that Venus is looking at herself and Cupid looks at her reflection…They are both looking at you! Cupid is making sure the angle is perfect for Venus to see who is watching her. This trick is actually known as the Venus effect. It subverts the traditional nude, in which the model is the object of the viewer’s gaze, often unknowingly. Here we are being secretly watched while watching. So, who is the object now?


Nudes in art are nothing new! Continue exploring with:

Art historian by education, data geek by trade, art and book lover by passion, based in London in love with Europe and travelling around it. You can visit my book blog here: https://bookskeptic.com/

Comments

More in Painting of the Week

  • Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Young Boys Playing Dice, 1665-1670, Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, Young Boys Playing Dice, 1665-1670, Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany.

    Art Travels

    Dark Shadows of Seville in Murillo’s Paintings

    By

    Apart from fulfilling commissions for churches and noblemen’s mansions, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo painted genre scenes depicting poor children in their daily tasks. Those paintings, mostly acquired by a foreign clientele, reflect the bitter reality of poverty and exclusion in the 17th century Seville. Now that the...

  • Baroque

    Elisabetta Sirani: The Glory of the Female Sex

    By

    Elisabetta Sirani (1638–1665) was born in Bologna, a progressive city with a liberal attitude towards educating women. She was a pioneering female artist who established an academy for other women aspiring to become painters. Sirani was only 27 when she died at the peak of her...

  • Animals

    Painting of the Week: Jan Asselijn, Threatened Swan

    By

    Swans are normally characterized as graceful birds. They are magnificent and majestic. However, Jan Asselijn displays another side of these elegant birds. In Threatened Swan, we witness the fierce, protective, and powerful nature of motherhood. Yet, we are witnessing something more than just a wildlife scene....

  • Baroque

    Painting of the Week: Rembrandt van Rijn, Flora

    By

    Rembrandt painted his wife Saskia van Uylenburgh as Flora, goddess of spring and flowers, three times during their relatively short but meaningful marriage. He created the first portrait shortly after the wedding. It shows his beloved wife in all her beauty and glory, underlined by the...

  • Baroque

    18th Century Aristocratic Marriage Like in the Bridgerton Series

    By

    Three Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen is a huge triple portrait of the Montgomery sisters by Sir Joshua Reynolds. It thematizes aristocratic marriage and uses classical elements to allegorize the portrait. Exactly this type of marriage is represented in the Bridgerton Netflix series. The first...

To Top