Venus and Cupid
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Lorenzo Lotto creates weird symbolism with Venus and Cupid

Believe it or not, this is actually a wedding gift. The face of the bride is believed to be painted onto Venus’ body. As in modern times, the wedding is all about the bride and so is this painting. Academics aren’t sure if Cupid’s face is the fiancé or if that’s just the ugliest child in the world. But the face is definitely of a real life person, and Lotto basically painted everything else and then painted in the faces once he got a commission. According to some that was Lotto's specialty; he’d sit around with a bunch of nearly finished paintings waiting for a wedding and charge them 100% more than what he would for a not-wedding to paint in the faces of the happy couple. Sounds like the wedding industry hasn’t changed much. 

These fill-in-the-face wedding paintings were a common wedding gift. They would hang above the wedding bed and maybe there’d be a curtain over it, but the idea was that you look at it while you were having sex based on the extremely scientific belief that if you looked at something beautiful while you were having sex, the beauty would go in the man’s eyes, through his body, out his sperm, and into the woman and that the babies would be beautiful. I don’t know what happened to these babies, but, you know, science. 

Art history is all about symbolism and this painting actually has some fun stuff in it. The BDSM ties around Venus’ chest and wrist represent the eternity of marriage and that she’s now bound to her husband. The clinging ivy on the tree mirrors how the wife will now cling to her husband, very pro-feminism the Renaissance. The color of the ribbon is a specific shade of blue reserved for representing virginity and would often be used to easily spot the the Virgin Mary. Going off the Biblical symbolism the snake is obviously temptation, but with the stick they can beat temptations away together.   

While we have two naked people here everybody was naked during the Renaissance making this no big deal. You know what the big deal was? The fact that Venus only has on one earring. Anytime you see a woman with only one of an item usually worn in pairs (earrings, shoes, socks, gloves), it means that she’s a lady in the streets and a freak in the sheets and is always ready to go. 

The painting you have before you didn’t always look this way. When it first arrived at the Met, it looked slightly different. Cupid was holding a little nosegay, which is a little bouquet of flowers that gentlemen used to give women back before people showered frequently so that they wouldn’t have to smell each other and his pee was edited out. Venus’ crotch was covered with, of all things, a bit of fur. Conservators scanned the work and found out the nosegay and fur were not part of the original piece and restored it back to its original state.

Written with assistance from Lia Tambora of Museum Hack

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Venus and Cupid (Lotto)

Venus and Cupid is a painting by Lorenzo Lotto in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It probably dates to the mid-1520s, but has been dated as late as the 1540s.

It is a wedding gift for a couple of Bergamo or Venice. Such paintings were inspired by the classical tradition of wedding poetry.


Venus, lying on the ground and leaning on an elbow on a blue cloth, is accompanied by her son Cupid standing with his bow and quiver. He urinates on the bride through a crown of laurels of myrtle which she holds by a ribbon and below which is suspended a burning incense burner. This urine stream is symbolic act, the meaning of which is to bring fertility, and which would have seemed humorous to contemporary viewers.

A red cloth tied to a tree provides a background, and ivy climbs on the tree. Around Venus and Cupid are scattered allegorical objects of marriage (garland of myrtle), femininity (rose, seashell, rose petals), eternal love (ivy). The headdress of Venus, with the tiara, the veil and the earring, is typical of the Venetian brides of the sixteenth century. The pendant earring with a pearl is a symbol of purity. The gesture of Cupid urinating through the crown onto the belly of Venus is an allusion to fertility. The figure of a prepubescent boy in the act of urinating is a classical art motif known as a puer mingens, which was revived during the Renaissance.

The painting is Lotto's typically individual contribution to the emerging Venetian tradition of the recling nude, begun by the Dresden Venus by Giorgione and Titian. The goddess shows no discomfort with her nakedness and looks at the spectator in the eye. In front of her are a stick and a snake. The goddess seems to bless the marrying couple, wishing them fertility, and preserving them from hidden dangers like the serpent.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Venus and Cupid (Lotto).