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Lucas Cranach the Elder, Venus and Cupid

Key facts
Full title Venus and Cupid
Artist Lucas Cranach the Elder
Artist dates 1472 - 1553
Date made 1529
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 38.1 × 23.5 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit A gift from the Drue Heinz Charitable Trust, 2018
Inventory number NG6680
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Venus and Cupid
Lucas Cranach the Elder

Venus, the goddess of love, leans against a leafy tree while her son Cupid, the god of desire, tries to get her attention. Clutching a stolen honeycomb, he complains as bees swarm and sting him – but Venus is uninterested in her son. Instead, her attention is directed towards us.

The Latin inscription on the tree trunk explains Venus' lack of concern for her son, as well as the moral of the picture: brief and fleeting pleasure is mingled with sadness and pain. It alludes to the sting of Cupid’s arrows of love, which cause a more enduring agony than any bee sting.

Cranach painted numerous versions of this subject; there’s another in the National Gallery’s collection, Cupid complaining to Venus. His depictions, which combine a moralising message with blatant eroticism, were especially popular with his patrons.

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