Dreams of Desire 61 (Rokeby Venus)

Diego_Velaquez_Venus_at_Her_Mirror_The_Rokeby_Venus[1]
Venus at her Mirror (Rokeby Venus)-Diego Velázquez-1647-1651

One of the most famous portrayals of the female nude in Western Art, Diego Velázquez’s Venus at her Mirror, more commonly known as the Rokeby Venus, (so-called because it hung in the 19th Century at Rokeby Park, Yorkshire before becoming part of the National Gallery in London permanent collection), is a landmark of erotic art.

As Titian and Rubens were both connected to the Spanish court, it is likely that Velázquez would have been familiar with both Titian’s Venus of Urbino, and Rubens Venus in Front of the Mirror, which are cited as possible sources for the Rokeby Venus, however Velázquez was working in the severely censorious and repressive atmosphere of the Spanish Golden Age, where the Spanish Inquisition monitored art for immorality. Several Spanish Cardinals had called for the destruction of any artwork featuring nudity, but some Spanish courtiers and nobility held private collections of such work. Velázquez position as court painter to King Philip IV enabled him to become the first Spaniard to feature female nudity; it would be 150 years before another Spanish artist, Goya, would again take the risk, in his incomparable La Maja Desnuda.

As in Titian’s painting, Venus is shorn of her traditional mythological trappings, the only indicator that this is a mythological painting is the winged presence of her son, Cupid, who holds the mirror for her rapt self-appraisal. In a departure from previous representations of the Goddess, Venus is a brunette and is noticeably more slender than the fully figured versions of Titian and Rubens (especially Rubens). One of the most controversial features of the painting is the blurred face in the mirror in contrast to the precisely delineated derriere that is the focal point of the composition.

Outside of Spain, Velázquez wasn’t well known until the mid 19th Century, when he was discovered however he would have an important influence upon Modern Art. Manet, Picasso and Bacon are among those who have acknowledged their indebtedness.

The King of Kink, Helmut Newton (see Dreams of Desire 55 (Helmut Newton) knowingly references and updates the Rokeby Venus in one of his coolly fetishistic photographs from the late 70’s/early 80’s.

Helmut Newton
Helmut Newton-Rokeby Venus

 

53 thoughts on “Dreams of Desire 61 (Rokeby Venus)

  1. I can totally see why you mention that Velaázquez might have had Rubens´ Venus at a Mirror in mind. Very similar paintings. The cherub holding the mirror and the voluptuous women, whose faces we see just due to the mirror.
    You are right: Velázquez Venus (Aphrodite) is slimmer. And, unlike Rubens´painting, we can clearly see his son Eros (Cupid) here. No Cupid or mirror in Titian´s painting. But don´t you just love that little doggie sleepng in the backwards? . It seems it was intentionally put in order to represent fidelity in a marriage (Guidobaldo’s marriage) and meant to celebrate marital love. A different approach. See more in “meaning” here: http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/famous-paintings/venus-of-urbino.htm An excellent post, dear Mr Cake.You always teach me something! … Have a wonderful day xx 😀

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    1. Thank you very much Aquileana. I do love the dog in the Titian. The ribbons on the mirror are a curious feature, almost like fetters around the wrist of Cupid. Both wonderful paintings… I am an old masters kick at the moment, expect more shortly. Have a wonderful day my friend.

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      1. I am worried that it is outside my area, plus it has been written about some much by the greatest critics. But I am giving it my best. I have always liked the old masters, especially the ones that pointed the way forward.

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      2. Yeah but the point you were making about Velasquez painting nudes under the threat of the inquisition, the subtle eroticism of the painting. All of that is within your realm… And sort of what I was saying yesterday about the riskiness of straying outside acceptable parameters. Off with his head!

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      3. Interestingly enough this painting was severely damaged by a suffragette in 1914, she hacked at it with a knife. It was soon repaired. She gave conflicting versions of her motives, though one of them was that man gaped at it.

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      4. Well I’m glad it survived. If you apply that kind of thinking then any nude subject matter should be destroyed for fear of being sexualized. Plenty of naked men as well. Michelangelo’s David for one.

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      5. Well different standards have applied. However it’s a thorny question which has vexed feminism. Needless to say I would hate to lose all those dead white European male artists with their male gaze. No Surrealist (not that I am, no matter how much I wish I was, but I generally prescribe to their aesthetic) male or female thinks that eroticism is wrong.

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      6. Definitely a complex issue, involving both intent and interpretation. So subjective to both the artist and the observer. What defines objectification of the female? It’s getting even less easy to define. Who would argue with a female model confident with her body and her sexuality.

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      7. It is a thorny question. When does eroticism become pornography? Is pornography necessarily wrong? Is eroticism wrong? Is the censorship of the church and feminism just two sides of the same coin? What about women’s desire? The Handmaiden is a very good movie that addresses these issues, I don’t necessarily agree with the scene near the conclusion, but well handled.

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      8. No, it’s not empowering. As a literary work it has no redeeming qualities. And it’s been said before, if Christian Grey lived in a trailer park instead of a penthouse, he’d be in jail. However, and this is a big however…. it did open women’s eyes to the dark side. Even though the BDSM lifestyle was inaccurately portrayed, by all accounts. (That’s not my thing) The Story of O – that’s too much for me. The idea of becoming a willing sex slave, going through torture and rape at the behest of a lover, is repugnant. The psychological manipulation – becoming an object in one’s own mind- the destruction of the self. A horror.

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      9. You know I always play devils advocate… I didn’t read Fifty Shades… I have read The Story of O however… in the afterword by Jean Paulhan (the lover of the author) he agrees that the basis of almost all mysticism, whether Western or Eastern, is the annihilation of the Ego. O wants to achieve martyrdom and sainthood. This raises vexing questions. Can women tell other women that they don’t have the right to choose submission? Isn’t this limiting their freedom? Freedom is always a tricky thing.

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      10. Yes, the choice to submit is one’s own. As long as it truly is a choice. That is a blurry line. Freedom – when it infringes on the freedoms of others no one is free.

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      11. But, to quote Paulhan in the afterword, if I decide to play my guitar to four o’clock in the morning I am imposing upon my neighbours freedom to have an undisturbed sleep, however if I decide not to play my guitar because of my neighbour, he is imposing upon my right to play the guitar. You cannot have a freedom that doesn’t somehow impose upon the rights of others.

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      12. Agreed. Civility has to impose some limitations upon us or the end result is annihilation. The answer to the guitar question is for the player to find a place where he won’t disturb others or for the neighbor to wear earplugs to sleep. We accommodate one another’s freedoms the best we can. The trick is finding a happy compromise. If neither party is willing to yield a little of his freedom, chaos ensues. How much freedom are you willing to relinquish is the question. Because absolute freedom is impossible. Unless you are a deity answerable to no one.

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      13. But surely any compromise is denial of freedom for every party concerned? An individualist anarchist (and even Margaret Thatcher) would argue that there is no such thing as society. Or as Nietzsche would say, it is a tyranny of the weak.

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      14. I’m not saying that it isn’t a denial of freedom, only that it is necessary for survival. In the grossest of terms, should the murderer be allowed the ‘freedom’ to murder?

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      1. Took up about five minutes of my time. I knew it would be a painful experience, but it actually left me depressed that this was/is such a hit. It’s not the sex, it’s the stupidity. The gullibility. It made me cringe for my sex.

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  2. Yes seen this picture in the museum, the mirror suggests vanity.. fairer hair (at the time) suggested purity. I enjoy reading about art periods. The Baroque period is so diverse, symbolic and interesting. 🦋👍🌼

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