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The Toilet of Venus by Diego Velázquez gets knifed in the name of women's rights

Don’t go searching for the toilet in this picture, like ‘rape’ in Rape of the Sabine Women, the word ‘toilet’ has changed its meaning. It used to just be a space where a woman would get ready for a night out. In this instance, Venus’s bad parenting is coming out as she makes Cupid hold her mirror.

This painting is also known as the Rokeby Venus because in 1813 it was brought to England and displayed in Rokeby Park in Yorkshire. So original, we know.

This nude is extra special:

  • This is Velázquez’s ONLY surviving nude, and at this time nudes weren’t kosher for Spain. You know, the Inquisition and everything, and therefore one of the few Spaniards at the time to paint a nude.
  • The other unique factor is how natural and real looking she is. Possibly because Velázquez painted from a real life model (his Italian mistress maybe?) and to boot she is brunette instead of the usual blonde. Who said blondes have more fun?

On March 10, 1914, Mary Richardson took a knife into the National Gallery and slashed up Venus. Richardson was part of a Suffragette movement that committed acts of arson, vandalism, and even bombed a railway station all under the guise of the right to vote. Later, she became the head of British Union of Fascists (Even Mussolini needs a lady friend!). When her friend, fellow suffragette and leader of the women's rights movement Emmeline Pankhurst, was arrested, Mary thought the best course of action would be for Venus to get shanked.

Richardson is credited to have said, "I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history." She also stated forty some years later, "She didn’t like how men stared at it." Definitely a Guerilla Girl before her time. 

If you’re rewatching "The Tudors" anytime soon (thank you, Netflix!) keep your eye out for a pseudo Venus in Season 3. They have some made up duchess as the model and Hans Holbein the Younger painting it. And they have this painting an entire century removed from when it was actually painted! Uhhh WRONG!  

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Rokeby Venus

Rokeby Venus, c. 1647–1651. 122 cm × 177 cm (48 in × 70 in). National Gallery, London.

The Borghese Hermaphrodite, an ancient Roman copy, excavated c. 1608–1620, of a Hellenistic original, now in the Louvre. When in Rome Velázquez ordered a bronze cast of the work for Madrid.

The Rokeby Venus (/ˈrkbi/ ROHK-bee; also known as The Toilet of Venus, Venus at her Mirror, Venus and Cupid; Whose original title was "The Mirror's Venus" Spanish: La Venus del espejo) is a painting by Diego Velázquez, the leading artist of the Spanish Golden Age. Completed between 1647 and 1651, and probably painted during the artist's visit to Italy, the work depicts the goddess Venus in a sensual pose, lying on a bed with her back facing the viewer, and looking into a mirror held by the Roman god of physical love, her son Cupid. The painting is in the National Gallery, London.

Numerous works, from the ancient to the baroque, have been cited as sources of inspiration for Velázquez. The nude Venuses of the Italian painters, such as Giorgione's Sleeping Venus (c. 1510) and Titian's Venus of Urbino (1538), were the main precedents. In this work, Velázquez combined two established poses for Venus: recumbent on a couch or a bed, and gazing at a mirror. She is often described as looking at herself in the mirror, although this is physically impossible since viewers can see her face reflected in their direction. This phenomenon is known as the Venus effect. In a number of ways the painting represents a pictorial departure, through its central use of a mirror, and because it shows the body of Venus turned away from the observer of the painting.

The Rokeby Venus is the only surviving female nude by Velázquez. Nudes were extremely rare in seventeenth-century Spanish art, which was policed actively by members of the Spanish Inquisition. Despite this, nudes by foreign artists were keenly collected by the court circle, and this painting was hung in the houses of Spanish courtiers until 1813, when it was brought to England to hang in Rokeby Park, Yorkshire. In 1906, the painting was purchased by National Art Collections Fund for the National Gallery, London. Although it was attacked and badly damaged in 1914 by Canadian suffragette Mary Richardson, it soon was fully restored and returned to display. It was attacked again and its protective glass smashed by Just Stop Oil in 2023.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Rokeby Venus