Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
The Feast of Venus
c. 1636/37
recorded since 1685 in the Imperial Gallery in Prague
© Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

This painting, strongly influenced by humanism, celebrates the power of love and is inspired by two literary sources: on the one hand, the description of a lost Greek painting that depicted nymphs decorating a statue of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, surrounded by adoring winged cupids. In 1518, this literary description inspired Titian - Rubens' idol and inspiration - to execute a famous painting which was later copied by Rubens. On the other hand, Rubens' antiquarian and archaeological interests led him to study Ovid's "Fasti" in which the classical poet describes the Roman feast of Venus Verticordia during which the women of Latium make sacrifices (e.g. dolls, mirrors and combs) to Venus so that the goddess may preserve them from uncontrollable desire. The celebration also featured ritual ablutions both of the statue of the goddess and of the participants. Both in his free handling and the rich profusion of colours Rubens pays homage to the late Titian; however, the feeling of actual physical presence and the ecstatic intensity of resurrected Classical Antiquity are Rubens' very own contributions.

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