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Work Venus at her Toilet, or The Air

Department of Paintings: Italian painting

The Toilet of Venus

© 2009 RMN / RMN / Franck Raux

Italian painting

Corinne Dollfus

The scene takes place on the shores of a lake in front of a marvelous palace. Venus is at her toilet, assisted by her retinue of maidens and cherubs. She is preparing to seduce Adonis. In the skies above the scene, other cherubs are repairing her chariot and feeding the swans that pull it.

Figures of grace

Venus is sitting half-naked on a low seat in front of the portico of a temple with Doric columns. A cherub is holding her mirror while another fastens her sandal. Two Graces standing behind her have nearly finished styling her hair, while a third is bringing a net sewn with pearls to complete the style. On the left, three cherubs are gathered round a small table. Venus has come to the shore to seduce Adonis. The Graces are helping her at her toilet.
The scene is set against a seascape. Venus was of course born from sea foam. The temple of Knidos rises from the waves like an enchanted isle. To the right is a rich fountain decorated with figures and dolphins. Cupid is hovering over the scene singing of the sweetness of love, while winged cherubs are feeding ambrosia to the swans that are about to be yoked to Venus' chariot. Another cherub is leading two doves to drink at the fountain.

A ducal commission

In 1621, Ferdinand Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, commissioned a series of four paintings on the theme of the elements for the Villa Favorita. Albani had already painted a series on the same theme for Prince Borghese some years earlier. This work is the first in a cycle of four episodes from the life of Venus. This cycle opposes Chastity and Sensual Love in the rival figures of Diana and Venus.
Albani added further touches to this painting in 1633 when he was working in Florence for the Medici family, who purchased the series after Ferdinand Gonzaga's death.

Albani: poetry in painting

Albani's preference for brightly lit scenes and figures with very pale skin reflects the influence of artists working in Venice during the Renaissance. The figures are full of grace and charm. The atmosphere of serene voluptuousness is a perfect alliance of natural beauty and allegory.
Albani studied with the Carracci family, who created a new style of landscape painting in the early 17th century. Here, Albani has depicted the picturesque surroundings of Bologna, where he was living at the time. The figures are in perfect harmony with the setting of lush greenery, clear skies, and cool, pure waters. The atmosphere is one of gentle serenity. Albani has been called the Anacreon of painting, in reference to the Greek poet of the 5th century BC, who wrote lyrical poetry in praise of Venus and love.

Technical description

  • Francesco ALBANI (Bologna, 1578 - Bologna, 1660)

    The Toilet of Venus


  • H. 2.02 m; W. 2.52 m

  • Collection of Louis XIV (acquired in 1685)

    INV. 9

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Grande Galerie
    Room 710, 712, 716

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