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Bronzino, 'An Allegory with Venus and Cupid', about 1545

Key facts
Full title An Allegory with Venus and Cupid
Artist Bronzino
Artist dates 1503 - 1572
Date made about 1545
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 146.1 × 116.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1860
Inventory number NG651
Location Room 9
Collection Main Collection
An Allegory with Venus and Cupid

This is one of Bronzino’s most complex and enigmatic paintings. It contains a tangle of moral messages, presented in a sexually explicit image. Venus, goddess of love, steals an arrow from her son Cupid’s quiver as she kisses him on the lips. Cupid fondles Venus‘ breast, his bare buttocks provocatively thrust out as he returns her kiss and attempts to steal her crown.

The masks at Venus’ feet suggest that she and Cupid exploit lust to mask deception. The howling figure on the left may be Jealousy; the boy scattering roses and stepping on a thorn could be Folly or Pleasure; the hybrid creature with the face of a girl, Fraud or Deceit. Winged Father Time battles with mask-like Oblivion to either reveal or conceal the scene.

The picture was probably sent to King Francis I of France as a gift from Cosimo I de' Medici, ruler of Florence, who employed Bronzino as a court painter.

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