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Home>Collection & Louvre Palace>Curatorial Departments>Venus, Satyr, and Cupid

Venus and Cupid with a Satyr, formerly entitled Jupiter and Antiope

© 2000 RMN / René-Gabriel Ojéda

Italian painting

Cécile Scailliérez

This complex allegory of earthly love was probably accompanied by The School of Love (National Gallery, London), whose subject is rather heavenly love. Both works were painted around 1524-27, perhaps for Count Nicola Maffei, a close relative of Federico Gonzaga at whose home these two paintings could be found from 1536.

Identifying the work

In the 18th century, this painting was thought to portray Jupiter and Antiope, and it sometimes goes by that title still today. While it is true that according to myth Jupiter, greatest of all the gods, seduced Antiope in the form of a satyr, it is never stated that the latter was sleeping when discovered. In fact the flaming torch placed between Cupid (Eros) and the sleeping woman is an attribute of Venus, the goddess of love. It is with this torch that she combats the chaste Diana in the work by Perugino painted for Mantua, also found in the Louvre. Furthermore, the torch - like the arrows - is an attribute of Cupid: love has the capacity to enflame those affected by it and strike from afar. Thus we see here next to Venus the figure of Cupid, exhausted after his victory over Hercules, whose lion skin he won. The lion skin is a symbol of strength; here we find Cupid sleeping on it. The satyr - a half-man, half-goat creature who in Greco-Roman mythology is a demon of nature devoted to nymphs - serves here as the incarnation of indiscretion and prurience, despite the gesture that conceals his desire. With his right hand he shades the goddess, like the satyr who discovers Venus in the first volume of The Dream of Poliphilo, published in Venice in 1499.

A complex composition for a complex allegory

Even though the body of classical myth contains certain stories of young sleeping women coveted or even ravished by a satyr (Amymone, for example), none concerns Venus. Thus this painting by Correggio, as in the case of Titian's Venus da Pardo (Louvre), should be considered more an allegory than a precise description of any one legend. Moreover, an old copy of the work was described in the 17th century as a "Venerie mundano" or, in Neoplatonic terms, "earthly Venus" - referring to carnal love. On the other hand, its companion piece in the National Gallery in London, showing Cupid (Anteros) learning to read between a winged Venus and Mercury, educator of humanity, would be a depiction of heavenly or spiritual love. Lastly, the interpretation of the two paintings is further enriched by Vincenzo Cartari's Images of the Gods (1517), which reminds us that the Ancients freely associated Mercury, god of eloquence, with Venus: sweet words make love blossom and grow.
The informed method of Correggio is not limited only to iconographic complexity: it extends to the composition as well. This was not overlooked by Correggio's most gifted emulator, Parmigianino, who made use of the work's bold foreshortening in the lower register of his Madonna and Child with Saints (1527, National Gallery, London). The way the figures are arranged is also reminiscent of Michelangelo's fresco, Temptation and Fall of Adam and Eve (Sistine Chapel, 1509-10), where the sleeping Cupid motif is similar to that found in a sculpture by the classical artist Praxiteles (and a reinterpretation of it by Michelangelo, both kept by Isabelle d'Este in the "grotta" of her studiolo at the Ducal Palace of Mantua).

Grace and sensuality

The style here, however, is quite different from Michelangelo's. The forms are exalted to an unusual degree, and the suggestion of spatial depth borders on rationalism. Correggio's painting is in keeping with the sensuality of his subject: sinuous line, atmospheric color, crepuscular light, and voluptuous modeling. These elements contrast with the colder, more classically-influenced painting produced in the same period (c. 1524-28) by Giulio Romano in Mantua, while vying with it in terms of erotic ardor.
It has been supposed that this painting and its companion piece - found among the property of Gonzaga in the 17th century - were painted specifically for Mantua, either for Federico Gonzaga or his mother Isabella d'Este. But recent research has established that the two paintings were at that time part of the collection of one of Gonzaga's relatives, Count Nicola Maffei (d. 1536).

Technical description

  • Antonio ALLEGRI, known as CORREGGIO (Correggio (near Parma), 1489? - Correggio, 1534)

    Venus and Cupid with a Satyr, formerly entitled Jupiter and Antiope

  • H. 1.88 m; W. 1.25 m

  • Acquired by Louis XIV from the heirs of Mazarin, 1665

    INV. 42

  • Paintings

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

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