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Mark Twain once called this painting “the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses” in his travelogue A Tramp Abroad, but let’s be real, there is way worse out there than a beautiful goddess chilling in her birthday suit.

The instant your gaze is drawn to the sight of Venus lounging naked in Titian’s Venus of Urbino on display at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy you question, along with Ariosto Ludovico, “Is this Venus a mythology, a wedding picture, or ‘pornography for the elite,’ the painting of a courtesan whose impersonation of the goddess ‘fooled no one’?”

Answer? It’s probably a little of all three. Our girl Venus is the mythical Roman Goddess of love. Guidobaldo II della Rovere commissioned this painting as a wedding gift for his bride, so it falls within the definition of a wedding picture. As for if it’s “pornography for the elite,” the jury is still out.

Art critics from back in the day often repressed their feelings on the sexual tension such works of art evoke, but Titian’s Venus lays it all out bare on the table or, in this case, the divan. Clothed in only her bracelet and ring—who needs clothing when jewelry is available?— Venus seems to be the erotic goddess of sensuality; however, in this portrayal, believe it or not, she is supposed to represent fidelity, domesticity, and the allegory of marriage.

The good doggo curled up at the foot of the bed is a symbol for marital fidelity. I mean, who knows how to be loyal better than man’s best friend? The female maidservants in the background of the painting stand for servility and even motherhood as the elder woman oversees the girl.

Considering the painting was a private gift from husband to wife, Guidobaldo probably wanted his bride to have it all, the sex appeal, the loyalty, the maternal instincts. Fortunately, women are amazing, be they goddesses, aristocrats, or artists, so his bride probably was all that and more, just like the Venus of Urbino.




Titian made a naked lady who was in essence, just a naked lady, but called her Venus of Urbino.

And so, everyone believed she was Venus. Didn’t take a lot of convincing…as most nude chicks at that time were generally believed to be goddess type creatures. Plus, if she’s called Venus, then she must be Venus…a watertight debating tactic used widely by Republicans. 

But she’s actually just a regular ol’ high-end call girl named Angela del Moro who Titian used to grab dinner with. Fact is, people didn’t think it proper to just look at other regular people in the buff in those days, even if they were the subjects of high art. So you had to give them these appropriate titles like “Venus” before you could ogle them for years to come in your secret parlor with a bottle of lotion…oops, I mean, wine.

But wait a second! This Venus wasn’t meant for just the male gaze…she was actually a wedding present from the Duke of Urbino to his future, young bride. Couldn’t have stuck with a trousseau, huh? Defying convention, he presented her with this sensual picture, which was actually meant as an instruction manual too. It’s basically supposed to say: “This is how you’re supposed to look when I get home from a long day at work. Oh, and the dog can watch, because he’s a symbol of loyalty, etc. I dunno about those people in the back…I guess they can stay as long as they don’t stare too much. Whatever, just be naked all the time.”

I don’t know how many people managed to scrape their jaws off the floor long enough to notice, that although hot as hell, Venus here had a couple of deformities. Her torso is maybe a bit too long (the more the better, right?) and her feet are way too dainty and small. But all these anatomical imperfections don’t REALLY matter since he got the important bits right.

Lots of guys had painted sexy Venuses before…Giorgione, for one. But his is a bit sleepy compared to this one who looks at the viewer with a “come hither” kinda look. Her hand is also strategically placed, though it looks like it isn’t doing much work down there besides being a lame attempt to cover up the goods. Many artists in the following years made their own versions of Venus, inspired by this one who stares out directly at you. Manet’s Olympia is another such example of naked chicks who just don’t give a sh*t.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Venus of Urbino

The Venus of Urbino (also known as Reclining Venus) is an oil painting by the Italian painter Titian, which seems to have been begun in 1532 or 1534, and was perhaps completed in 1534, but not sold until 1538. It depicts a nude young woman, traditionally identified with the goddess Venus, reclining on a couch or bed in the sumptuous surroundings of a Renaissance palace. It is now in the Galleria degli Uffizi in Florence.

The figure's pose is based on the Dresden Venus, traditionally attributed to Giorgione but for which Titian at least completed the landscape. In this depiction, Titian has domesticated Venus by moving her to an indoor setting, engaging her with the viewer, and making her sensuality explicit; some even believe the figure is engaging in masturbation.

Interpretations of the painting fall into two groups; both agree that the painting has a powerful erotic charge, but beyond that, it is seen either as a portrait of a courtesan, perhaps Zaffetta, or as a painting celebrating the marriage of its first owner (who according to some may not have commissioned it). This disagreement forms part of a wider debate on the meaning of the mainly Venetian tradition of the reclining female nude, which Titian had created, or helped to create, some 25 years before with the Dresden Venus of around 1510–11. For Charles Hope, "It has yet to be shown that the most famous example of this genre, Titian's Venus of Urbino, is anything other than a representation of a beautiful nude woman on a bed, devoid of classical or even allegorical content." Even the indefatigable finder of allegories drawing on Renaissance Neoplatonism, Edgar Wind, had to admit that in this case "an undisguised hedonism had at last dispelled the Platonic metaphors".

A recent theory by Józef Grabski suggests that the painting represents an allegory of marital love between famous Italian poet Vittoria Colonna and her deceased husband, Fernando d'Ávalos. Grabski supports his theory through analyzing various visual clues and symbols, the most prominent being the classic column in front of the trees in the window in the right half, a small detail on the painting that imitates the Colonna Family coat of arms.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Venus of Urbino

Comments (1)


This portrait is such a classic example of the reclining nude during the Renaissance era. The softness of her posture reflects the softness in her eyes. She's looking directly into the viewer, and yet there is nothing intense or sharp about that gaze.