Venus and Cupid

Annibale Carracci

Bologna, 1560 – Rome, 1609

Oil on canvas, 110 x 130cm

Inv. 333

The Galleria Estense, Modena

The canvas featuring Venus and Cupid was part of a group of five oval paintings of mythological figures. Annibale, Agostino and Ludovico Carracci were commissioned by Cesare d’Este, who in 1591 took it upon himself to refurbish parts of Palazzo dei Diamanti, including his wife’s chamber (Virginia de’ Medici) and the room opposite: The Camera del Poggiolo. Although not yet a duke at the time of the refurbishment, Cesare was the expectant father of his future heir, Alfonso III d’Este.

The oval paintings, presumably intended for the Camera del Poggiolo, featured Flora, Galatea (or Salacia), Venus, Pluto and Aeolus (missing today). In 1592 the paintings arrived at the Palazzo, staying there until 1630 when Francesco I d’Este ordered the surviving works in Ferrara to be taken to the Palazzo Ducale in Modena. In 1796 they were transported to France following the Napoleonic requisitions, only to be officially restored to the Este family in 1815. 

Although the unique stylistic characteristics of each artist can be identified, the paintings share key underlying elements: the di sotto in su spatial composition; the supine position of the bodies; their dynamic, well-rounded forms (reminiscent of Michelangelo’s drawing); and an atmosphere worthy of Correggio.