Venus Frigida
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gstecyk's picture


This Peter Paul Rubens painting is basically a beer commercial.  

The title and subject are from the Latin “Sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus,” originating in the farce Eunuchus by the Roman comedian Terence. Bacchus is everyone’s favorite god of wine and hardcore partying, and Ceres is the goddess of agriculture, thus food. It roughly translates to “without bread and wine love freezes.” In other words: you gotta wine ‘em and dine ‘em if you want to get laid.

This crass sentiment is hardly surprising. Terence’s Eunuchus was the American Pie of its time, and is about a guy who impersonates a eunuch to get in a girl’s pants. The line itself is spoken by a character who discovers his lady love is even sexier after a night of heavy drinking. So this painting is essentially an allegory for beer goggles.  

For this reason, the subject was very popular during the Flemish Renaissance. Sex and alcohol were under attack from puritanical Dutch protestants, but guess who had the money to commission art? That’s right, brewers. Wealthy Dutch and Belgian brewers fought back with a propaganda campaign of masterpieces based on Terence’s famous theme. Venus, the goddess of love, is either shown freezing and naked without her companions, or healthy and prosperous with them.  The moral of the story: beer, it does your body good!

Rubens has obviously taken the freezing and naked approach for this lesson. Venus shivers as she and Cupid play tug of war for a skimpy gossamer veil. Cupid lays aside his arrows, waiting for Bacchus to lower the girls’ inhibitions, and give the guys beer goggles so that he can make the magic happen. Meanwhile, Bacchus barges in looking like that guy who shows up to the party 3 hours late with a bottle of vodka, just as everyone else is ready to go home. Since nude female models were not readily available, Rubens based Venus on a marble statue he had seen in Rome.  

Terence got off quite a few classic zingers in between raunchy sex scenes. He’s also responsible for “Time heals all wounds,” and “Where there is life, there is hope.”  The message of this one is simple:  You gotta fight for your right to paaaarty!  At least that’s the message Flemish brewers gleaned from it. The propaganda must have worked, or we wouldn’t be drinking Heineken today. The horror.


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Here is what Wikipedia says about Venus Frigida

Venus Frigida (Cold Venus) is a 1611 oil on panel painting by Peter Paul Rubens, now in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp. It is one of the few works which he both signed and dated and derives its title from a quotation from the Roman playwright Terence, "sine Cerere et Baccho friget Venus" ("without Ceres and Bacchus, Venus freezes") i.e. love cannot survive without food and wine). He draws Venus' crouched pose from what would later be called the Lely Venus, which he saw in the Gonzaga collection during his time in Mantua.

Cupid and his arrows are shown in front of Venus.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Venus Frigida.