As critics have suggested, the painting became part of the Borghese collection after Pope Paul V ordered the seizure of works by Cavalier d'Arpino, in 1607. The composition shows Venus sensually stretched out on a red drapery, in the company of Cupid who is placing a crown of flowers on her head. To her right, beyond a window sill where two white doves are perched – one of the goddess’ typical attributes – is a beautiful landscape of dense vegetation in subtle vivid hues.
20th century frame (111 x 138.5 x 5 cm)
(?) Rome, Giuseppe Cesari, called Cavalier d'Arpino, ante 1607 (De Rinaldis, 1936, p. 112); (?) Rome, Cardinal Scipione Borghese, 1607; Rome, Borghese Collection, 1650 (Manilli, 1650, p. 98); Inv. 1693, room VI, no. 24; Inv. 1790, room VI, no. 17; Inventario Fidecommissario, 1833, p. 25; purchased by the Italian State, 1902.
The painting was most likely part of painter Giuseppe Cesari’s collection, seized in 1607 by Pope Paul V’s prosecutors who accused the artist of illegal detention of firearms. This theory, advanced in 1936, was supported by Aldo de Rinaldi, who identified the Borghese canvas as the “Venus with a cherub with golden frame” summarily listed without a title in the Nota dei quadri, the catalogue of the paintings confiscated from D’Arpino. The work was later identified both as the painting mentioned in 1650 by Iacomo Manilli (“the sleeping Venus with a standing Cherub is by the same Cav. Giuseppe”), and the one mentioned by Domenico Montelatici in 1700 (“a Venus lying on the ground, asleep, with a boy standing”), though these descriptions do not fit the canvas in object, as observed by Paola della Pergola (1959).
However, the work is duly described in the 1693 inventory (“a canvas painting four spans in width with a Woman lying naked on a red cloth with a Cherub placing a Crown of flowers on her head and two Doves […] gilded frame belonging to Cavalier Gioseppe d’Arpino”) and assigned the number 723, still visible in the lower left-hand corner. Adolfo Venturi (1893) mistook it for the “Lying Venus” attributed to Scarsellino (inv. 206), an error repeated a few years later by Giulio Cantalamessa (1912). The work was correctly reascribed to Cavalier d’Arpino by Roberto Longhi (1928), an attribution broadly embraced by critics. In 1996, considering certain details such as the cherub’s features and the style of the landscape in the background, Patrizia Tosini suggested attributing the canvas to d’Arpino’s workshop, and more precisely to Cesari’s later production, at a time when the painter required the help of his atelier to deal with a large number of commissions. Furthermore, according to Tosini the closest iconographic precedent for this canvas was Titian’s Venus and the Lute Player (in both its Cambridge and its New York versions), from which the Borghese Venus differs in some details, such as the absence of the musician, of the bracelets, and of the pearl necklace, or the presence of the two doves on the windowsill. This was common practice for Cesari, who, as attested by Manilli (1650), had often replicated Vecellio’s works, these canvases having been described in the villa’s collections as “belonging to Cavaliere Giuseppe” and inspired by Titian.
This painting depicts Venus, the goddess of beauty, crowned by Cupid, her son, with a wreath of flowers. Lying voluptuously on a red cloth, her white and rose body, similar in its rendering to that of Andromeda (Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, KFMV 282), is lit by a pale light that emphasises its delicacy and the elegance of its forms. On her right, two white doves – typical attributes of the goddess – are perched on the sill of a window opening onto a beautiful, brightly coloured, refined landscape with lush vegetation. According to Tosini (1996), the subject might refer to a wedding allegory depicting the young bride as Venus, naked and beautiful as she will appear to her future husband. The goddess’s attempt to cover her head with the drape seems, in fact, to allude to married life, while the wreath of flowers proffered by Cupid stands for its chaste, loving essence.
The painter produced several versions of this same subject: two, now lost, were documented in Rome in 1624 as part of the painting collection of Monsignor Costanzo Patrizi (Röttgen, 2002); another is still present in a private collection in Rome (cit.).