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Palma Giovane, Mars and Venus

Key facts
Full title Mars and Venus
Artist Palma Giovane
Artist dates 1554 - 1628
Date made about 1590
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 132.7 × 168.4 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the Duke of Northumberland, 1838
Inventory number NG1866
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Mars and Venus
Palma Giovane

Venus, goddess of love and beauty, twists to embrace her lover, Mars, god of war, who has thrown off his armour in his haste to reach her bed. Mars is only half on the bed with Venus above him as he meets her lips in the urgency of their desire.

A pair of doves, an attribute of Venus, are beside winged Cupid, who struggles to untie the laces of Mars‘ footwear. Venus is married to Vulcan. The voluminous red bed drapes are looped around the bedposts to reveal this scene of adultery like a stage set. The earthiness of the deities’ forbidden passion is echoed and expressed in the painting’s sultry colour palette. The haste of the brushwork suggests that this picture was never intended to be displayed where it would be closely inspected.

When Mars and Venus was presented to the National Gallery in 1838 it was considered unsuitable for public exhibition, and so it hung for many years in the Director’s office.

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