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12 of 7,992

Giovanni Battista Scultori

(Italian, 1503–1575)

Mars and Venus

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Object Details

Artist

Giovanni Battista Scultori

Date

1539

Medium

Engraving on laid paper

Dimensions

Image/Sheet: 11 1/8 × 7 15/16 inches (28.3 × 20.2 cm)

Credit Line

Acquired through the Ernest I. White, Class of 1893, Endowment Fund

Object
Number

60.077

The extramarital affair between Venus, the Roman deity of love and sex, and Mars, deity of war, serv(…)

The extramarital affair between Venus, the Roman deity of love and sex, and Mars, deity of war, served as inspiration for sixteenth-century artists who used the narrative for both romantic and erotic scenes. Scultori’s engraving crystallizes many dramatic elements of the Venus-Mars relationship into a cohesive work: a nude Venus and armor-clad Mars embrace on a luxurious canopied bed as Cupid, here characterized as Venus’s offspring, suckles at his mother’s breast. While Scultori’s print does present a full, unobscured glimpse at a female nude, it skirts being inappropriate by deliberately limiting the protagonists’ sexual contact. Scultori’s contemporary Marcantonio Raimondi was imprisoned for his explicit takes on Greco-Roman love stories, which in part showed Mars and Venus in flagrante delicto as Cupid sleeps in a nearby cradle, so it is conceivable that Scultori wanted to avoid a similar fate. Renaissance audiences would have been familiar with the late medieval type of the Virgo Lactan—depictions of the Virgin Mary breastfeeding baby Jesus—so Scultori’s print may be an attempt to downplay the erotic aspects of Venus’s story in favor of her motherhood. (“Undressed: The Nude in Context, 1500-1750,” text by Brittany R. R. Rubin and presented at the Johnson Museum February 9-June 16, 2019)

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