A young couple sit on the grass in a shady glade. The woman’s hair is unbound, and her dress disturbed. In one hand she holds reed pipes, with the other she either restrains her lover or encourages him to move the crimson cloak over her lap. A naked, winged cupid crowns them with a wreath. A wooden water cask lies next to the man’s thigh and a recorder rests above it.
The painting’s subject is uncertain. The musical instruments and setting suggest this may be a pastoral scene of a shepherd and his lover, but the woman’s clothes are neither plain nor rural. Her chemise is of the finest linen and her dress is made of elaborately patterned silk. Her cloak is of expensive crimson silk velvet.
Perhaps the picture represents a scene from classical mythology or contains a hidden meaning about love, or it may just be an erotic image of a nymph (nature goddess) and her lover.
A young couple sit on the grass in a shady glade. The woman’s hair is unbound, and her dress disturbed to reveal her breasts and leg. In one hand she holds an imaginary musical instrument of four attached reed pipes, with the other she either restrains her lover or encourages him to move the crimson cloak over her lap. His simple robe, which reveals the knotted muscles of his arm and torso, is tied with a braid about his waist. The couple gaze toward a naked, winged cupid who crowns them with a wreath. A wooden water cask lies next to the man’s thigh and a simple wooden instrument – perhaps a recorder – rests above it.
The subject of the painting is uncertain.The musical instruments and setting suggest this may be a pastoral scene of a shepherd and his love, but the woman’s clothes are neither plain nor rural. Her chemise (a simple garment worn next to the skin to protect the clothes) is of the finest linen and her dress is made of elaborately patterned silk. Her cloak, possibly of silk velvet, is crimson – the most expensive colour. Her hair, although loosened, could only have been dressed with the help of a maid and a mirror. Mirrors were difficult to make and expensive.
This may be a scene from classical mythology or an allegory of love. It has sometimes been interpreted as Daphnis and Chloe, although the woman’s rich clothes argue against this, as Chloe was raised as a simple shepherdess. The couple may be Venus and Adonis. In which case, the episode would be the goddess Venus trying to restrain her lover, Adonis, from joining the hunt by removing his bow. This subject was popular during the 1550s due to the international success of Titian’s Venus and Adonis painted for Philip II, King of Spain. But Bordone has not included a bow here and the young man doesn't show any interest in going hunting. The subject might be Dido and Aeneas who consummated their love while seeking refuge from a storm. However, there is no sign here of a storm. Perhaps the picture is just an erotic image of a nymph (nature goddess) and her lover being crowned by Cupid.
The painting is very minutely finished. One can see tiny brushstrokes of black and red in Cupid’s wing, the separate pale hairs of the man’s beard and threads of fabric at the borders of his garment. Bordone has created a sumptuous colour effect by using two blues on top of each other in both the drapery and the sky. The copper pigments have darkened in the brown leaves at top right and the black areas on the left – they would originally have been greener. Over time, the paint has become slightly translucent in places: we can now see the woman’s dress and cloak through the pipes she holds.
Paris Bordone may have painted this work during his stay in France in 1559. He made two other versions of the painting (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna; and Cultural Historical Museum, Dubrovnik). The figures in those paintings are identical in size to this one and may have been made from the same cartoon.
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