Reminiscent of Titian’s style, this painting is typical of the kind of mythological scene made for learned, private patrons in Venice that he helped pioneer. Cupid, god of love, raises his arrow to pierce a woman embracing a youth who holds a golden apple.
The central couple may be Hippomenes and the virgin huntress Atalanta, who challenged her suitors to race with her. Hippomenes won the race when Atalanta stopped to pick up the golden apples he threw down. Alternatively, they may be Adonis and Venus, goddess of love; when Cupid accidentally pricked Venus with one of his arrows she fell in love with Adonis.
The background scenes relate to the legend of Adonis. On the right, Myrrha is driven from the house by her father whom she had seduced. She calls on the gods for help, turns into a myrrh tree and gives birth to Adonis. On the left, Adonis is gouged by a boar. Hearing his groans, Venus and Cupid race through the sky but Adonis dies. Venus laments over Adonis' body.
In this mythological scene, a young woman embraces a youth who holds a golden apple. She turns to look at us as though we have interrupted their lovemaking. Venus’ son Cupid raises his arrow, apparently about to pierce her breast with it.
The central figures of the scene may be Hippomenes and the virgin huntress Atalanta, who challenged her suitors to race with her. She told them that if they won they could marry her, and if they lost they would die. Hippomenes threw down golden apples as he ran, which had been given to him by Venus. When Atalanta stopped to pick them up she lost the race. Alternatively, the couple may be Venus and Adonis, as Venus was awarded a golden apple as a prize for her beauty. When Cupid accidentally pricked Venus with one of his arrows she fell in love with Adonis.
The scenes in the background relate to the legend of Adonis. The figures on the right are connected with his birth. Myrrha is driven from the house by her father whom she had seduced. She calls on the gods for help in the wilderness, turns into a myrrh tree and gives birth to Adonis. On the left we see Adonis’s death as he is gouged by a boar. Venus and Cupid race through the sky in a chariot drawn by four white doves but they are too late. Adonis dies and Venus laments over his body.
The stories of Adonis and Atalanta may have been connected in this painting because in Book X of the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Venus tells the story of Atalanta to Adonis.
We do not know who painted the picture, but it is reminiscent of Titian’s style and typical of the kind of mythological scene made for the enjoyment of learned, private patrons in Venice that he helped pioneer. It is unlikely to be by him, however.
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