The Toilet of Venus ('The Rokeby Venus') [Diego Velázquez]

Kate Girton


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!). At some point her friend, Mrs. Pankhurst, is trampled after jumping in front of the King's horse and in retaliation 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!  


The Toilet of Venus ('The Rokeby Venus') [Diego Velázquez] is mentioned on Sartle Blog -