The Venus of Urbino: An Inside Look

The Italian Renaissance is home to many impressive paintings including Titian’s iconic Venus of Urbino. This sensual work encourages much discussion surrounding classical works, marriage, and female beauty. Let’s see what Titian’s painting has to say!  

If You Look Closely…

naked women lounging on bedding
Titian’s Venus of Urbino (1538), © Uffizi Gallery

You’ll see a beautiful woman casually lounging upon rumpled sheets. She gazes invitingly at the viewer while lying completely naked except for a few jewels. A rose bouquet rests in one hand while another is draped between her thighs. She demands our attention while evoking arousal. As she languidly rests, a small dog sleeps soundly at her feet. Two maids also look around for clothing as the sun sets.  

Moreover, Titian uses light and warm colours to accentuate her body among a darker background. Tonal variations highlight the pink flush on her cheeks, feet, hands, and knees.

Alluring to the eye, no?  

Classical & Contemporary Inspiration 

Like many Renaissance artists, Titian looked to classical works for inspiration. Firstly, the painting is named after Venusthe Roman goddess of love. The woman’s pose draws close parallels to Greek and Roman sculpture depicting the Venus pudica (or modest Venus) stance. You’ll see this in works like the Medici Venus or the Aphrodite of Knidos. For more Venus references look at our posts about Botticelli and Bronzino!  

Alongside classical allusions, Titian also based his work off of Giorgione’s Sleeping VenusGiorgione would’ve been a fellow colleague. His painting shows a naked woman sleeping in a meadow. See the similarities!? 

naked women lounging on beddingnaked woman sleeping outside
Titian’s Venus of Urbino (Left) compared to Giorgione’s Sleeping Venus (Right); Slide the bar to switch between images!

I Thee Wed

In 1538, Guidubaldo della Rovere, none other than the Duke of Urbino, commissioned Titian to create the Venus of Urbino. The painting would serve as a model for Giulia Varano, the duke’s young wife. Why? Probably because there are references to martial fidelity and intimacy.  

The ‘Venus’ title refers to the goddess of love! This frames the painting around intimacy, seduction, beauty, and fertility. Likewise, the rose bouquet and myrtle bush symbolize love! Even the crimson cushions allude to passion and desire. Combining these symbols with her flirtatious eyes and pose, this Venus is Titian’s ideal representation of female beauty.  

Looking towards marriage, Titian emphasizes martial fidelity. See the sleeping dog? It represents fidelity! The two maids also dig for clothing in a bridal chest, one even holds a beautiful gown (probably for a wedding!). Furthermore, let’s not forget the jewels adorning Venus which would be given to brides!  

Upon its completion, the painting would reside in a couple’s private chambers. Overall, it’s an intimate painting in an intimate space! Could her sensual gaze be directed towards her husband? As a gift from a husband to his wife, this painting would show the loyalty and intimacy expected from brides. 

Shocking Society

This erotic painting gained notoriety in Renaissance society. In other words, to see a nude woman gazing flirtatious at the viewer utterly shocked audiences! By creating this clear object of desire, Titian made the painting bearable to his audience by rooting it in allegory and mythology. As a classical goddess with marriage allusions, viewers might’ve been more accepting towards the nude figure! 

Even today, this painting faces scrutiny. For instance, a feminist outlook would point out that Venus is reduced to a sexual object, a figure for male visual consumption and satisfaction. This is called the ‘Male Gaze’. On the other hand, you could interpret it as a beautiful woman in charge of her sexuality!

Leaving a Legacy

Besides its scandalous connections, artists have looked towards this painting for inspiration. So, I point you towards Édouard Manet and his 1863 Olympia. Manet reinterprets the Venus of Urbino by making the central figure a prostitute! In comparison, Manet’s work is considered hard where Titian’s is soft. In a sense, Olympia seems less delicate than Venus. What do you think?   

naked women lounging on beddingnaked woman reclining
Titian’s Venus of Urbino (Left) compared to Édouard Manet’s Olympia (Right); Slide the bar to switch between images!

In addition to Manet, other artists that took inspiration from Titian include Jean-Auguste-Dominique IngresMickalene Thomasor Amedeo Modigliani 

With a great legacy, Titian’s Venus of Urbino is worth seeing today at the Uffizi Gallery. On that note, keep an eye out for more treasure hunts too! For more art insight, there are more blog posts for you to peruse. Check them out and let us know what you think! 

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