Venus Unveiled

By Stuart Frost

Statuette of Venus, 1560-1570, Museum no. A.13-1964The last entry posted here focused on the male nude through two sculptures of David by Donatello and Michelangelo. This week I thought I’d focus on the female nude and more specifically on representations of Venus. Given that Valentine’s Day fell on 14 February the Roman goddess of love is a particularly appropriate and topical subject.

I was interested to read in the press earlier this week that a 16th century painting of Venus by Lucas Cranach the Elder had fallen foul of advertising guidelines for posters on the London Underground. Although I haven’t reproduced the image here, if you click on one of the links below you’ll be able to see the painting for yourself. The diaphonenous veil and necklace add to the erotic charge of the naked figure.

Venus was the Roman goddess of love and fertility and I’m sure that most of you will be familiar with classical statues that depict her in various naked or semi-naked poses. There is nothing obviously divine or classical about Cranach’s Venus which is probably why his painting still has the power to make one or two people feel uncomfortable about displaying it in such a public space. Traditionally a nude that followed classical precedents and models was unlikely to attract too much controversy. However even in classical times stories circulated that spoke of the power of sculpture to inflame the passions of the viewer.

Whilst I was surprised that Cranach’s Venus had been ‘banned’ I was also glad that the painting still had the power to generate so much debate and so many column inches in the papers.  I suspect that the Royal Academy won’t be too disappointed about the extra publicity for their forthcoming exhibition either!Venus Anadyomene, about 1510-15, Italian. Museum no. A.19-1964. Surely the vast majority of people feel that banning the poster is an over-reaction and that there are far more dubious or questionable adverts in the free newspapers that litter the trains?

I’ve illustrated this posting with several representations of Venus in the V&A’s Renaissance collections. Click on the picture to find out more about the sculpture shown. Amorous visitors to the V&A won’t have to look too hard in the galleries to find many other images of Venus, or male and female nudes, produced over a wide chronological span from the Renaissance onwards.

Click here to find out more about Lucas Cranach the Elder’s painting of Venus.

Click here to find out more about the exhibition Lucas Cranach the Elder in Frankfurt.

2 thoughts on “Venus Unveiled

Lisa Swift:

I can’t really see why the image was banned but as you point out the publicity won’t have hurt that much. Is it the case that nudes within a gallery context are viewed as non-sexual whereas the society in which we live today almost expects our advertising campaigns to contain elements of sexuality?


I think it is certainly true that museums and galleries strongly influence the way people percieve objects. Visitors may feel that if an object is in a museum it must be socially acceptable otherwise it wouldn’t have been given a place in a public gallery?

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