Skip to main content

This is a YouTube video player. Below the video are the title, view time and description. Below that is a carousel of video thumbnails. Clicking a thumbnail will load and play that video.

1 video

Slide number: 1
View time: 0:52

The School of Love by Correggio shows a tender, loving, happy family scene in a sunny woodland glade – but this is no ordinary family. For this is Venus, goddess of love, with Mercury, god of wisdom and their young son, Cupid, the god of love.

Image: Correggio, 'Venus with Mercury and Cupid ('The School of Love')', about 1525 © The National Gallery, London

Venus leans protectively towards a childish, innocent Cupid, with his bow, tucked beneath her arm. Cupid is engrossed in reading, as Mercury, who personifies eloquence and reason, guides him line-by-line. We can recognise Mercury, messenger of the gods, by his feathered cap and winged sandals. 

Subjects combining themes of love, beauty and education would have appealed to Renaissance courtiers. It is thought that the painting belonged to Count Nicola Maffei (about 1487–1536) who was a close associate of Federigo Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua.

Perhaps Correggio or Maffei knew the story of Venus and Mercury teaching Cupid to read from the allegorical romance written by Francesco Colonna or from a bronze sculptural group by L‘Antico owned by Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua. It is a very unusual subject, however, and it’s also rare to show Venus with wings.

The painting was designed as a pair to a painting now in the Louvre, in Paris, where an erotically posed Venus lies asleep with Cupid, and is being leered at by a lustful satyr. While the Louvre’s painting depicts earthly passions, the National Gallery’s painting depicts the perfection of heavenly love balanced by wisdom.

With its soft smoky brushstrokes, the painting evokes a deep sense of harmony, and since the family loom large in the painting, it is as if we have stumbled into their Arcadian world.

You might also like...

Picture of the month

Picture of the month

February 2020: The Supper at Emmaus

Caravaggio’s iconic painting tells this biblical story as never before
Picture of the month

Picture of the month

January 2020: The Baptism of Christ

This earliest surviving work by 15th-century Tuscan painter, Piero della Francesca, shows an important moment in the history of Christianity
Picture of the month

Picture of the month

December 2019: The Nativity at Night

Divine and earthly light illuminate Geertgen tot Sint Jans's tranquil night-time scene
Picture of the month

Picture of the month

November 2019: The Finding of Moses

A vast, dramatic painting telling the story of a mother’s love
Picture of the month

Picture of the month

October 2019: Noli me Tangere

Discover the painting that started our 'picture of the month' tradition during the Second World War
Picture of the month

Picture of the month

September 2019: The Healing of the Man born Blind

A small fragment of one of the most celebrated Early Renaissance paintings ever made