The Birth of Venus by Alexandre Cabanel (French, Montpellier 1823–1889 Paris) 1875. Oil on canvas. 41 3/4 x 71 7/8 in. (106 x 182.6 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of John Wolfe, 1893.
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Visions of Romance

Discover representations of love in The Met collection

Rooted in ancient mythology, depictions of the female nude in art serve as idealized symbols of beauty, sex, and romance. Influenced by religion and societal norms, the many ways in which this archetype is presented continue to evolve today.

Marble statue of Aphrodite, Imperial period 1st or 2nd century A.D. Roman. H. with plinth 62 1/2 in. (158.8 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, purchase 1952.

 

Aphrodite

Dating back to the 1st or 2nd century A.D., this Roman work depicts Aphrodite, the goddess of sexual love and beauty. Although she was known as Venus by the Romans, this work is titled as a depiction of Aphrodite because it copies an original Greek statue. Shown in a state of undress, the work originally shows Aphrodite both modestly and suggestively shielding her exposed bosom and pubis, which were still visible to the viewer.

Marble Statue Group of the Three Graces, Imperial period 2nd century A.D. Roman. Overall: 48 7/16 x 39 3/8in. (123 x 100cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Philodoroi, Lila Acheson Wallace, Mary and Michael Jaharis, Annette and Oscar de la Renta, Leon Levy Foundation, The Robert A. and Renée E. Belfer Family Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. John A. Moran, Jeannette and Jonathan Rosen, Malcolm Hewitt Wiener Foundation and Nicholas S. Zoullas Gifts, 2010.

 

The Three Graces
Carved in Rome in the 2nd century A.D., this work represents Aglaia (Splendor or Beauty), Euphrosyne (Mirth), and Thalia (Good Cheer or Abundance), the handmaidens of Aphrodite. Daughters of Zeus and Eurynome, The Three Graces are patrons of the best aspects of nature and society. Typically depicted nude, these three gracious and sensuous female attendants to the gods held special importance at festivals and parties, where their loveliness was meant to inspire goodness and charity among the revelers.

Venus and Cupid by Lorenzo Lotto (Italian, Venice ca. 1480–1556 Loreto). Oil on canvas. 36 3/8 x 43 7/8 in. (92.4 x 111.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, purchase, Mrs. Charles Wrightsman Gift, in honor of Marietta Tree, 1986.

 

Venus and Cupid

Here, Lorenzo Lotto depicts Venus with the baby Cupid. This piece was likely created to celebrate a marriage, and so Lotto embeds the painting with related symbols. We see the goddess wearing a veil as Cupid playfully urinates upon her in a gesture of fertility and purity, while the ivy represents fertility and the myrtle wreath is another symbol of marriage. In the classical era, Venus was infrequently associated with marriage, but in the Renaissance, this association was emphasized. As such, depictions of Venus from this era underscore the goddess’s purity and innocence rather than her sexuality.

Eternal Spring by Auguste Rodin (French, Paris 1840–1917 Meudon), modeled ca. 1881, carved 1907. Marble. Overall (wt. confirmed): 28 × 29 × 18 in., 433 lb. (71.1 × 73.7 × 45.7 cm, 196.4 kg). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, bequest of Isaac D. Fletcher, 1917.

 

Eternal Spring

Created by Auguste Rodin, this exquisitely modeled sculpture depicts a couple mid-embrace, frozen for eternity in a moment of passion. Overtly sexual and romantic, the work was initially presented by Rodin as a depiction of Zephyr and Earth, and later as Cupid and Psyche, in order to veil its erotic subject in classical myth.

Reclining Nude by Amedeo Modigliani (Italian, Livorno 1884–1920 Paris), 1917. Oil on canvas. 23 7/8 x 36 1/2 in. (60.6 x 92.7 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Mr. and Mrs. Klaus G. Perls Collection, 1997.

 

The Reclining Nude

Influenced by historical representations of Venus from the Italian Renaissance, Amedeo Modigliani’s 1917 Reclining Nude presents an expressly sexual vision of romance in art. Just a few years after Rodin’s sculpture, this confrontational presentation of the nude was radical for the period as it does not cite mythology or allegory, instead presenting an ordinary woman (not a goddess or priestess), nude, in a moment of intimate, unselfconscious repose.   

 

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