Rokeby Venus Essay, Research Paper
I choose to look at the painting “The Toilet of Venus” or more commonly referred to as “The Rokeby Venus” by Diego Velalazquez. The “Rokeby” part came into effect, because the painting was originally displayed in the Morritt Collection at Rokeby Hall in Yorkshire, before being moved to its current home in the National Gallery. Diego Velazquez was born in Seville in 1599, and went on to become one of the most brilliant and influential painters ever to come from Spain. He lived in Madrid for most of his adult life, and was employed as a court painter. Throughout his career, he tackled a wide variety of subjects, such as landscapes, scenes from real life, and mythological/religious figures. He was a master realist who excelled at capturing essential features upon the canvas. He painted “The Rokeby Venus” between 1647 and 1651, and was his only nude portrait, as well as the first one in Spain, at that time. Initially the painting met with some disapproval, especially from the Church, since it was a nude, but eventually the work received great praise, and became known, as being one of the most beautiful and significant portrayals of Venus in the history of Western Art.
The painting, in its simplest form, consists of a naked woman lying elegantly upon stately and rich cloths, while a young, also nude boy, is holding a mirror which contains her reflection. Upon first glance of this work, I was quickly able to make out the identity of the two subjects. Venus was shown to have many recognizable attributes, including the fact that she was nude. She is the only goddess who is allowed to be painted without any clothes on, since she is the personification of beauty, and her body is therefore perfect. Also, unlike a typical nude portrait, there is no pubic hair showing at all, nor is she wearing any jewelry. These are characteristics that are specific to Venus, and represent the naturalness and realness of her beauty; untouched by decorative items and imperfections. Finally the biggest clue that led me to her identity, was the presence of her son, Cupid. He is found in many Venus pictures, and he is very easy to decipher in the work. I knew it was him, because of his wings; which is his greatest and most well known attribute. Knowing all of these clues, I was easily able to piece together the identity of the subjects, before I even saw the title of the panting.
After doing some further research on this painting, I came to learn about some aspects that tend to shed some light on what Velazquez, actually intended for this
work to represent. The pose that Venus is in, is erotic, yet she still manages to embody innocence and sensibility; due to her surroundings. She is displayed with elegant draperies surrounding her, which help to create the illusion that she is so rightly a goddess, upon a pedestal, not able to be touched. The majestic red in the background seems to show exaggerate her royal status and greatness. As for Cupid, we can see that he is in a state of relaxation, since he is disarmed; without his traditional bow and arrow. He is completely immersed and in awe of the beauty that radiates from his mother, in her reflection in the mirror. The image that can be seen of Venus through the mirror, is the cause of many debates with this work. Her reflection is that of only her face, and oddly enough, against the laws of optics, leaves out the rest of her body. Also the Goddess of Love is not looking at herself, which is usually common in a mirror, but toward us, the viewers of the painting. I come to see this as Venus’s greatest feature; although she is the absolute figure of beauty, she is not vain, or at least not in this work. We, the viewers are all busy admiring her, as well as her son Cupid, yet all she can do is look toward us, through the magic of the mirror.
There was no other decent option for me, when deciding what work to choose for this paper, since I was immediately struck by the unusualness of the “Rokeby Venus”. It was not typical, I believe for a Venus painting, since she was in a private room and with a mirror, not on some God-like landscape, as I have seen her so often in the past. Also I think she is as beautiful as she could be in this work, her body is flawless, with no imperfections. It is amazing how Velazquez showed such a figure of absolute beauty and gave her a mirror so she could see herself, yet made it so she was not looking. I feel that this tactic was well above the typical norm for that time, it made the viewer wonder; can she possibly know how beautiful she really is? The question still lingers even today, was she not looking because she knows, or because she doesn’t. Maybe some paintings don’t always have a clear-cut answer.