In this new series, writers discuss their favourite artworks.
What: Venus of Urbino
Medium: Oil on canvas
Subject: Venus reclining on a couch
Where: Uffizi, Florence
Why: This was one of the first paintings that I saw that made me sit back and think, “wow, I love art.” It is probably also the painting that lit the fire in my heart for (mostly reclining) female nudes – which is always the best type of art. What’s more, in my opinion there is a correlation with the best paintings that exist and those that depict Venus. So as you can imagine, this painting is pretty much the jackpot for me.
Venus was the Roman goddess of love, beauty, sex, fertility, desire, and victory, but today she is mostly just an embodiment of love and sexuality. She became one of the most commonly depicted deities in Western art and she was central to many of the Roman religious festivals.
I love the direct gaze in Titian’s Venus of Urbino. Venus engages the viewer as they observe her reclining and she is unapologetically erotic. Her hand drifts a little too close to her vagina for many viewers in the 16th century.
Venus aside, the background and the contextual details of the painting are beautiful, from the sunset visible through the windows to the maids looking for something for Venus to wear. I am a big fan of symbolism, and in this painting the posy of roses in her hand and the myrtle plant that you can see on the windowsill are both plants that are traditionally associated with Venus, thus symbolising love. There’s also that little dog sleeping on the bed with her, symbolising fidelity.
Mark Twain described this painting as “the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses”. I beg to differ.