Dreams of Desire 60 (Venus of Urbino)

Venus of Urbino
Venus of Urbino-Titian circa 1532-1534

I have concentrated in the Dreams of Desire series on erotic images produced by the various avant-garde movements that followed the great rupture with tradition that was Impressionism, especially the Symbolist, Expressionist and Surrealist movements. However eroticism had long been a staple of Western Art, notably in the Renaissance.

Although Titian’s painting bears the title Venus of Urbino, it is immediately evident that it represents a break from the numerous preceding pictorial versions of the Goddess of Love. This is a Venus that is shown in a domestic scene as opposed to the bucolic countryside, and she has been largely stripped of her standard allegorical and mythological accoutrements.  The viewer is presented with a sensual and erotic image of a earthly woman (probably a courtesan); nothing more, nothing less.

Also startling in a painting almost 500 years old is the frankness of the steady gaze of Venus, a  frankness that certainly invites comparisons with Manet’s Olympia, a painting  that caused such controversy and consternation upon being first exhibited in 1865.

Edouard Manet-Olympia 1863

57 thoughts on “Dreams of Desire 60 (Venus of Urbino)

  1. She is lovely! A courtesan, yes and the women in the background frantically rummaging around in the chest for something to over her with. “For God’s sake Mildred, any old thing will do.” Oh I’m quite silly this morning. 🙃

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      1. But really the maids are probably getting her clothes out for her. Maybe she is getting ready for her lover’s arrival? Or putting herself back together after he’s departed? It’s a gorgeous painting. And I love the Manet as well.

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      2. It is… I think I am going to do a little mini series within the series of pre-Modern erotic work, but of course with relevance to Modernism. This painting with its undisguised eroticism was way ahead of its time, before it was all disguised pastoral fantasies.

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      3. The art yes, the painter, not necessarily! I can only imagine the pressure to stay within certain acceptable parameters. Controversy was neither marketable or without real risk

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      4. Until it become the default position of the avant garde, epater le bourgeoisie and all that… initially bracing by the time of post-Modernism and the Young British Artists sterile controversies had become the surest way to success. But then again I am not a fan by and large of post-Modernism (though there are exceptions), so maybe I am prejudiced.

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      5. Yes, a complete swing of the pendulum in the other direction. I like to choose individual artists not entire movements generally. The more I learn the more I find to appreciate about a bit of everything. With some definite preferences of course.

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  2. So, anyway, Mr Cake, I’ll give it another try.
    The second picture you put in, it is the way she positions her left hand, that caught my attention. It is probably for the purpose of coverage, but it has more of an salacious effect, I think. Dignified enough? Ah, I really would like to know how my English sounds for a native speaker…

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    1. Excellent, far better than my German. Yes Olympia does seem to be more salacious than the Venus. Manet was deliberately rebelling against 19th Century prudery and hypocrisy, while the Renaissance had a slightly more tolerant outlook, within a mythological setting anyway.

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      1. You have great taste. I have featured a Caravaggio in a previous dreams of desire post- Judith. I have also done one on Durer that looks at the esoteric meaning of Melancholy. Also a post on Hand Holbein. Goya is the last of the old masters and the first of the moderns so I did a series of posts on him, but apart from that not much. Maybe I should remedy that. More reading and research (that is what I love though) I will send you the links for the posts mentioned you might find them interesting.


      1. I have seen this in Rome in the church it was commissioned for… astonishing. In fact the St Matthew paintings might have been the best piece of art that I saw in Rome, which is absolutely stuffed with great art. It is a smallish enough church for Rome but inside you find the three paintings of St Matthew and it unbelievable with the lighting and everything. Caravaggio has a unique ability to make other paintings around it seem insipid and bland (the same thing happens in London and Dublin). I cannot even remember any of the other paintings in the church.


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