Art in Metamorphoses: Venus and Adonis

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Art in Metamorphoses 
Centuries of Ovid's Influence
Curated by Natalie Dockhorn


Titian, Venus and Adonis, 1554

"And this miraculous baby of his sister,
Sired by his grandpa, just not born of a brush
Barley a boy, in the blink of an eye is a man."
-Ovid's Metamorphoses

Adonis, the child of Myrrha who bedded her father and then transformed into a tree, was born from this tree with the help of the goddess of childbirth, Lucina. Venus immediately falls for the child and takes Adonis under her protection. Venus puts Adonis under Proserpina's care, but she too falls for the child. As this conflict of interest arises, Jupiter enters the feud and settles the goddesses with an agreement. The agreement stated that Adonis would spend part of the year with Venus and part with Proserpina.

In Metamorphoses, Ovid explains how Venus was pierced with one of cupid's arrows when Adonis was birthed from the tree. Titian's painting of Adonis struggling to leave Venus illustrates the lust Venus feels for the boy. Also, painted in the background by the tree we see Cupid sleeping and his arrows hanging in the tree. Adonis, probably off to his other maiden, Proserpina, looks at Venus without much attraction, but rushing to leave her. Venus, literally lovestruck by Cupid's arrow begs for her love to stay. The phenomenon is strange to me because of the back story. I mean Adonis' mother, who is also his sister, and who's grandpa is also his father, came from a tree to be sort of mothered by Venus, who then also falls in love with him. That sort of incest is hard to come back from, I can only imagine the struggles.

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