Art History Hotties: Rokeby Venus

7:00 AM

Diego Velázquez, Rokeby Venus, 1651

Venus, the G-ddess of Love, was thought of the perfect image of a woman. Here, we can only see her backside, because we are not worthy enough for her full beauty. Though she lies before a mirror and she sees and knows her true beauty. In a way, she is saying that she is the only one worthy of her beauty. This can be looked at in a feminist sense, so that she doesn’t need a man to tell her she is beautiful, because she knows it. Her son, Cupid, is the only male allowed to see her beauty, as he came from inside her beauty. In that way, she created another beautiful thing, Cupid, the G-d of Love. Another important aspect of the painting is that we can she her face in the reflection of the mirror. We see her beautiful face, but not her beautiful body. Here we can think of her saying look up and see my beauty. Velázquez doesn’t want her lower half to be the focus. Also, the mirror allows her to see herself and the viewer. This is important because Velázquez includes the viewer in the scene. The viewer feels Venus’ confidence. She loves herself and is comfortable in her own skin, which is an important takeaway as a viewer in today’s day and age.

One reason the painting is intriguing, is because this is the only surviving example of a female nude by Velázquez. The subject was rare in Spain because it met with the disapproval of the Church. Velázquez is known for his portraits and for his works commissioned by the Spanish Royal family. King Philip IV is remembered for his support of artists such as Velázquez. Religion was important to King Philip, so it is interesting that Velázquez would paint a bold painting that would offend his best client and members of the Spanish Inquisition. Trips to Italy and studying Italian artists acted as the influence for Robeky Venus.

Velázquez uses curves and drapery to add texture to the painting. The curves of the sheets match the curves of her body and help accentuate her form. Veláquez uses a light color on the bottom and a rich red for the curtain in the upper left quadrant, but breaks the colors up with a dark grey hue. The left side of the picture is busier than the right side of the painting.

I enjoy this painting because it suggests beauty without revealing it. Velázquez doesn’t reveal the true beauty of the Goddess of Love. In some ways that is better because it is up to the viewer to find or imagine her beauty. I imagine Venus as a sassy character in this scene along with her sidekick, Cupid, which I believe is a humorous aspect of the work.

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