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Venus, Cupid and a Satyr

Bordone Paris

(Treviso 1500 - Venice 1571)

The work has been reported in the Borghese collection since the mid-17th century. The theme depicted could also be the nymph Antiope seduced by Jupiter in the form of a satyr, but the apple being plucked from the tree recalls the figure of Venus, and the Judgement of Paris. Already referred to the school of Titian, the canvas is unanimously attributed to Paris Bordon.


Object details

Inventory
119
Location
Date
1555-1565 circa
Classification
Period
Medium
oil on canvas
Dimensions
cm 99 x 146
Frame

Salvator Rosa, 124.5 x 172 x 8 cm

Restorations 2000 and 2009

 

Provenance

Turin collection of Margaret of Valois, Duchess of Savoy (Manfredini)(?); Rome, Cardinal Scipione Borghese (Manilli 1650); Inventario Borghese 1693, Room VI, no. 308 (Della Pergola 1964); Inventario Fidecommissario Borghese, 1833, p. 25 (Mariotti 1892). Purchased by the Italian state, 1902.

Inscriptions

in basso a sinistra, scritto a pennello in ocra chiara, il numero 472; a destra, vicino al piede del puttino: .o. bordonus.

 

Exhibitions
  • 1984, Treviso, Palazzo dei Trecento
  • 1986, San Pietroburgo, Ermitage
  • 2009/2010, Tokyo, NMMA
  • 2021, Mantova, Palazzo Te
Conservation and Diagnostic
  • (?) post 1927 circa, anni Trenta/Quaranta del ‘900, (?) (resizing of the canvas)
  • 2000, Paola Mastropasqua (canvas, frame)
  • 2009, Lidia Del Duca (canvas, frame)

Commentary

There are no known records of how it entered the Borghese collection, however it is reported there as early as 1650 (Manilli) as “the crouching Venus, with Cupid at her feet, and a Satyr” by Paris Bordon. This attribution, confirmed by the inventory of 1693 (Della Pergola, 1964), is however lost in later testimonies.  In the catalogue of around 1790 it is Titian, and for the inventario fidecommissario of 1833 it is the school of Titian, while late 19th-century critics considered its value to be mediocre: a bad copy from Paris Bordon (Morelli), traced back to the master by Venturi, who saw it as an original work if not in a good style, as did Aldo De Rinaldis (1935).

The most recent studies agree that it is an autograph work by the painter from Treviso, which can be dated to a later phase of his production, and therefore between the end of the 1660s and the first half of the 1670s.

Lying on a red drape that partially covers her left arm and right thigh, a female figure reclines naked and asleep, her elbow resting on the ground, her cheeks red and a lock of hair sensually falling over her shoulder. Behind her, against a backdrop of trees and towards the centre of the composition, stands the figure of a satyr reaching towards a tree to pick an apple. On the right, a Cupid, only one of whose wings can be glimpsed, lifts the end of the cloth from the ground and covers his head with it. In the background, on the right, the landscape opens up against a sunset sky.

The painting reworks themes and models that were frequently adopted in Venetian circles, starting with the undisputed prototype of the Dresden Venus, re-proposed in infinite variations and replicas, of variable workmanship and quality, from workshops or famous autograph works, available in large numbers for a market avid for this type of painting. We know of an earlier and more refined variation of our painting, preserved in the Galleria Franchetti at the Ca’ d’Oro in Venice, noted in its day by Suida. In this work, there is no satyr and the woman is undoubtedly characterised as Venus: roses are scattered on the red drape, which in turn is twisted and spread on a white one; Cupid’s quiver hangs from the trunk behind her. Again, a variant of the well-known model could be referred to in Vasari’s quotation, which recalls a “Venus with Cupid sleeping guarded by a servant” made “for the Duchess of Savoy”, Margaret of Valois (Vasari; Manfredini): however, it seems unlikely that this report could refer to our version (Simone), where in any case, and aside from the possible inaccuracies, Cupid is not sleeping, there is no servant but a satyr, and above all the statement regarding the great quality of the “beautiful painting” and the characters represented, “so well made that they cannot be praised enough” (Vasari), does not hold up.

The theme depicted is that of the nymph, or sleeping Venus, according to a classical model that is thought to date back to an ancient bas-relief intended to decorate a fountain. It is reworked in the well-known illustration dedicated to Venus, the mother of all things, PANTON TOKADI, from Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499) (Simone), in which an adult satyr in the presence of two younger ones, discovers a Venus, naked, lying down, covered only by a strip of the cloth on which she is lying during her sleep.

It is no coincidence that, given the theme, our painting appears in those rooms of the Borghese residences dedicated to Venus, alongside paintings with similar subjects: in 1650, Manilli records it in the Hermaphrodite room of the villa outside Porta Pinciana (today rooms XVI, XVII and XVIII, then a single room) together with the “painting of Venus, with Cupid in front, and with a Satyr in the background” (inv. 124); In 1693 it is recorded as a “Woman sleeping and a Cupid takes away her blanket, with a Satyr, of No. 422 gilded frame by Paris bordona” in the sixth room of the Palazzo di Ripetta (Della Pergola, 1964). In this same room, which in the course of the 18th century was called the “Room of the Venuses”, it is recorded in the picture gallery catalogue dated around 1790 as “Venus Sleeping, Cupid and Satyr Playing, Titian” (De Rinaldis, 1937), and in the inventario fidecommissario of 1833.

The characters in the painting have also been identified as Jupiter and Antiope, recalling a bucolic-pastoral mythological subject that was also widely adopted, in which the nymph is seduced by Jupiter in the guise of a satyr (Bailo - Biscaro). However, there is still a tendency to see in the nude one of the iconographic acceptations (and meanings) of Venus, due to the presence of Cupid and the apple plucked by the satyr, which refers to the Judgement of Paris, but also perhaps to the painter’s name (Mariani Canova, 1984).

Over the course of time, the painting has been consistently tampered with, perhaps affecting its quality, and certainly its size.

The oldest photos, datable to the late 1920s, show a canvas that is wider than its current state, revealing the presence of an additional strip at the top, with the backdrop of trees on the left, and a wider portion of sky on the right, marked by a clearly visible horizontal line indicating the seam between two pieces of canvas.

In all likelihood, it is an addition - perhaps in response to an unspecified need for decoration, carried out at an unspecified time, but before 1833 (the inventario fidecommissario records the “enlarged” dimensions) - compared to the original condition, which was restored in the 1930s and 1940s, as part of a restoration that was certainly not an isolated event in the restorations of those decades, and at the Galleria Borghese.

Two reasons support the hypothesis that the original painting was similar in size to the present one. The first is given by the inventory of 1693, which records it as “a large oblong painting of 4 large palms”, where “oblong” undoubtedly means a painting that is wider than it is tall, and “4 palms” refers, as for other works in the same inventory, to the measurement of height.

The second element is the model, which is repeated at least once in Paris Bordon’s work, consisting of the Ca’ d’Oro example where although the satyr does not appear, the dimensions are decidedly “oblong” (86 x 137 cm), as, moreover, are those of the paintings with reclining Venuses (or nymphs), from the famous Giorgione/Titian prototype, with which our painting is entirely in line. 

Maria Giovanna Sarti




Bibliography
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