Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time

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Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time
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Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time
Agnolo Bronzino, circa 1545

Oil on wood

146 × 116 cm
National Gallery, London

Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time is an allegorical painting by the Florentine artist Agnolo Bronzino now in the National Gallery, London. Around 1545, Bronzino was commissioned to create a painting which has come to be known as Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time. It displays the ambivalence, eroticism and obscure imagery which is characteristic of the Mannerist period, and of Bronzino's master Pontormo. The painting may have been commissioned by the Duke of Florence, Cosimo de' Medici or by Francesco Salviati, to be presented by him as a gift to Francis I of France. Vasari wrote that it was sent to King Francis, though he does not specify by whom. The erotic imagery would have appealed to the tastes prevalent in both the Medici and French courts at this time. The attention to texture and wealth is also consistent with Bronzino's aristocratic patronage. The figure of Venus can be likened to a precious object (such as a marble statue) in a luxurious setting, desirable because of her unavailability. Crowded into the claustrophobic foreground of the painting are several figures whose identities have been the subject of extensive scholarly debate. The themes of the painting appear to be lust, deceit, and jealousy. At times it has also been called A Triumph of Venus. Its meaning, however, remains elusive.

Venus and Cupid detail.
The two central figures are easily identified by their attributes as Venus and Cupid. For example, she holds the golden apple she won in the Judgement of Paris, while he sports the characteristic wings and quiver. Both figures are nude, illuminated in a radiant white light. Cupid fondles his mother's bare breast and kisses her lips. Even more bizarre is the subtle element of Venus's tongue; she appears to be on...
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