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Peter Paul Rubens, The Birth of Venus

Key facts
Full title The Birth of Venus
Artist Peter Paul Rubens
Artist dates 1577 - 1640
Date made about 1632-3
Medium and support Black chalk and oil on oak
Dimensions 61 × 78 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1885
Inventory number NG1195
Location Room 18
Collection Main Collection
The Birth of Venus
Peter Paul Rubens

This design for a silver basin depicts a number of episodes from classical myth. Venus, the goddess of love, steps out of the giant shell from which, according to Hesiod’s Theogony and the Homeric Hymns, she was born. The birth of Venus from the sea is a playful subject for a basin design: as the container was drained, the figure of the goddess would gradually emerge. She squeezes seawater out of her long hair as she is helped to the shore of Cyprus by her attendants, one of whom holds out a string of pearls.

The sea god Neptune and his wife, Salacia, goddess of the sea, recline in the border above the scene, watching putti play with swans and ride seahorses, and nymphs ride dolphins. At the base of the border, the lovers Cupid and Psyche embrace – a reference to Venus’ role as the goddess of love. Rubens made the design for Charles I, King of England, and the basin was cast by the Antwerp silversmith Theodore Rogiers.

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