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Venus and Cupid at sea

Cambiaso Luca

(Moneglia 1527 - El Escorial 1585)

Documented in the Borghese collection in 1693, and incorrectly attributed to Pomarancio, the work was painted around 1560 by the Ligurian artist Luca Cambiaso. The canvas depicts Venus, seated on an enormous shell with her back to the viewer, as she is being pulled ashore by a dolphin, in the company of her son Cupid, armed with a bow and arrows. The goddess’ unusual pose, accentuating her long voluptuous legs, the veil she holds and the milky colour of her skin seem to evoke the figure of Leucothea, the “white goddess” with beautiful ankles, described in the Odyssey (V, 424-449) as emerging from the waters to give the sacred veil to Odysseus who, at the mercy of a storm, manages to save himself thanks to this unexpected gift.

Object details

databile 1560/1565
oil on canvas
cm 102,5 x 95

Salvator Rosa, 130.5 x 123 x 12 cm


Rome, Borghese Collection, 1693 (Inv. 1693, room VI, no. 15); Inv., 1790, room VI, no. 5; Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, p. 25; purchased by the Italian State, 1902.

  • 1927 Genova, Teatro Carlo Felice;
  • 1938 Genova, Palazzo Reale;
  • 1956 Genova, Palazzo dell'Accademia;
  • 1962-1963 Dayton, Dayton Art Institute;
  • 1962-1963 Sarasota, John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art;
  • 1962-1963 Hartford, Wadsworth Atheneum;
  • 1992 Genova, Esposizione Internazionale;
  • 2005-2006 Firenze, Museo degli Argenti;
  • 2007 Genova, Palazzo Ducale;
  • 2008 Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art;
  • 2008-2009 Milano, Palazzo Reale;
  • 2009 Kyoto, The National Museum of Modern Art;
  • 2010 Tokyo, Metropolitan Art Museum.
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • 1876 Achille Morelli (pulitura e restauro del dipinto);
  • 1992 Ivi Gabrielides (foderatura, pulitura, ridipinture, stuccature e reintegrazioni);
  • 2009 Soprintendenza (restauro della cornice).


This painting is documented as belonging to the Borghese collection since 1693 (Inv. 1693, room VI, no. 15), described in that year’s inventory as “a canvas painting of five spans depicting a Naked Woman sitting on a rock with a white cloth and a Cherub.” The work, erroneously ascribed to Pomarancio (Inv. 1693), was duly attributed to Luca Cambiaso in 1760 (De Rinaldis, 1937, p. 225) and mentioned in the fideicommissum listing of 1833 as present in the “hall of Venuses” – alongside Venus and Adonis (inv. no. 317) and Cupid at Rest (inv. n. 191) – where it is reported again in both 1859 and 1884 (Leonardi, 2007).

The canvas depicts Venus with her back turned, seated on an enormous shell, while a dolphin carries her towards the shore. Next to her is Cupid, armed with bow and arrow (for a different interpretation see Fiore, 2005). The unusual pose of the goddess, exhibiting her long, curvy legs, the veil she is holding, and the milky colour of her skin seem to evoke the figure of Leucothea, the “white goddess” with the beautiful ankles described in the Odyssey (V, 424-449) as she emerges from the water to give her sacred veil to Odysseus, who manages to survive a storm thanks to this unexpected gift. Her body “appears to be modelled on an example of Paolo [Veronese]” (Venturi, 1893) and displays – again according to Adolfo Venturi – “the sculptural fullness and the pictorial mobility of a Baroque fantasy,” which contrasts with a somewhat “plastic rigidity” (see Magnani, 1995) that bestows a certain stiffness upon the composition. As Francesca Cappelletti (1996) has duly noted, it is quite likely that Cambiaso drew inspiration from examples of Venetian painting, especially Tintoretto’s Susannas for the position of the legs, and Veronese’s Venuses for the fullness of the goddess’s body.

The contrast between the strength of the colour and the refinement of certain effects, visible according to Andrea Leonardi (2007) both in the Madonna and Child with Mary Magdalene (Genoa, Palazzo Bianco) and in the two paintings in the Borghese Collection, combined with traits of pleasantness and of “dismissive ease” (see Magnani, 1995), have made it possible to set the canvas in the painter’s second manner (Calì, 1999), a time when he developed his study of the role of light and the gradual passage between chromatic effects (Bologna, 1956), observing the technique of both Roman and Venetian masters (see Fiore, 2005). The dating of the painting, initially set by Manning and Suida between 1565-68 (1958) and later postponed by the same scholars to 1568-1570 (1962), was shifted by Torriti (1970) to 1550-65 and placed by Magnani (1995) in 1559. However, according to Kristina Hermann Fiore (2005), the virtuosity and the playful atmosphere of the scene set the canvas in circa 1560.

Antonio Iommelli

  • G. Piancastelli, Catalogo dei quadri della Galleria Borghese, in Archivio Galleria Borghese, 1891, p. 94;
  • A. Venturi, Il Museo e la Galleria Borghese, Roma 1893, p. 93, n. 123;
  • E. Jacobsen, Le Gallerie Brignole-Sale De Ferrari in Genova, in “Archivio Storico dell’Arte”, II, 1896, p. 89;
  • M. Labò, in Mostra Centenaria di Luca Cambiaso, catalogo della mostra (Genova, Teatro Carlo Felice, 1927), a cura di M. Labò, Genova 1927, p. 17, n. 4;
  • R. Longhi, Precisioni nelle Gallerie Italiane, I, La R. Galleria Borghese, Roma 1928, p. 189;
  • A. Venturi, Storia dell'Arte Italiana, IX, Roma 1933, p. 853;
  • A. De Rinaldis, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1937, p. 225;
  • F. Garibaldi, Lo Scorza, il Magnasco ed altri pittori, Savona 1938, p. 7; Mostra Pittori Genovesi del Seicento e del Settecento, catalogo della mostra (Genova, Palazzo Reale, 1938), a cura di M. Bonzi, O. Grosso, C. Marcenaro, Genova 1938, p. 16;
  • A. De Rinaldis, Catalogo della Galleria Borghese, Roma 1948, p. 24;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese in Roma, Roma 1951, p. 24;
  • P. della Pergola, La Galleria Borghese. I Dipinti, I, Roma 1955, p. 72, n. 123;
  • F. Bologna, Inediti di Pellegrino Tibaldi, in "Paragone. Arte", LXXIII, 1956, p. 29; Luca Cambiaso e la sua fortuna, catalogo della mostra (Genova, Palazzo dell'Accademia, 1956), a cura di G. Fabretti e A.M. Gabrielli, Genova 1956, n. 24;
  • B. Suida Manning e W. Suida, Luca Cambiaso, la vita e le opere, Milano 1958, pp. 147, 171;
  • B. Suida Manning, scheda in Genoese Masters. Cambiaso to Magnasco 1550-1750, a cura di R. e
  • B. Suida Manning, catalogo della mostra (Dayton, Dayton Art Institute, 1962), Dayton 1962, n. 11;
  • P. della Pergola, L’Inventario Borghese del 1693 (II), in “Arte Antica e Moderna”, XXVIII, 1964, pp. 458, 466;
  • P. Torriti, Luca Cambiaso, in La Pittura a Genova e in Liguria dagli inizi al ‘500, I, Genova 1970, p. 223;
  • A. Coliva, a cura di, La Galleria Borghese, Roma 1994, p. 111, n. 54;
  • L. Magnani, Luca Cambiaso: da Genova all’Escorial, Genova 1995, p. 92;
  • F. Cappelletti, scheda in Immagini degli Dei. Mitologia e collezionismo tra Cinquecento e Seicento, catalogo della mostra, (Lecce, Fondazione Memmo, 1996-1997), a cura di C. Cieri Via, Milano 1996, p. 176, n. 31;
  • M. Calì, La "seconda maniera" dei dipinti profani di Luca Cambiaso, in Omaggio a Fiorella Sricchia Santoro, in "Prospettiva", XCIII-XCIV, 1999, pp. 64-68;
  • P. Moreno, C. Stefani, Galleria Borghese, Milano 2000, p. 246;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, scheda in Mythologica et Erotica: arte e cultura dall'antichità al XVIII secolo, catalogo della mostra (Firenze, Museo degli Argenti, 2005-2006), a cura di O. Casazza, Livorno 2005, p. 285, n. 160;
  • K. Herrmann Fiore, Galleria Borghese Roma scopre un tesoro. Dalla pinacoteca ai depositi un museo che non ha più segreti, San Giuliano Milanese 2006, p. 44;
  • A. Leonardi, scheda in Luca Cambiaso: un maestro del Cinquecento europeo, catalogo della mostra (Genova, Palazzo Ducale-Galleria di Palazzo Rosso, 2007), a cura di P. Boccardo, F. Boggero, Cinisello Balsamo (Milano) 2007, pp. 250-251, n. 23;
  • F. Lucantoni, scheda in La Venere di Urbino. Mito e immagine di una Dea dall'antichità al Rinascimento, catalogo della mostra (Tokyo, National Museum of Western Art, 2008), a cura di M. Sframeli, F. Paolucci, S. Watanabe, Tokyo 2008, p. 180, n. V-11 e pp. 267-268;
  • L. Bartoni, in Galleria Borghese. The Splendid Collection of a Noble Family, catalogo della mostra (Kyoto, The National Museum of Modern Art, 2009; Tokyo, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, 2010), a cura di C.M. Strinati, A. Mastroianni, F. Papi, Kyoto 2009, p. 140, n. 34.