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“Venus at her Mirror” by Diego Velázquez

RokebyVenus

“Venus at her Mirror” by Diego Velazquez

“Venus at her Mirror” by Diego Velazquez depicts the goddess Venus in a sensual pose, lying on a bed and looking into a mirror held by Cupid. Painted by Diego Velázquez, the leading artist of the Spanish Golden Age, between 1647 and 1651, it is the only surviving female nude by Velázquez. Nudes were extremely rare by seventeenth-century Spanish artists, who were policed by members of the Spanish Inquisition. Despite the Spanish Catholic church’s restrictions, nudes by foreign artists were keenly collected by the Spanish court nobles.

This painting which is also known by the titles of  “The Rokeby Venus” and “The Toilet of Venus” was inspired by famous Italian works of the nude Venuses which were the precedents for this work, which was painted during Velázquez’s visit to Italy. Velázquez combined two traditional compositions of Venus in this painting, the recumbent Venus and the Venus looking at herself on the mirror.

This Velazquez painting also illustrates the “Venus Effect”, which is a phenomenon in the psychology of perception, named after Venus because of the various paintings of Venus gazing into a mirror. Viewers of “Venus Effect” may assume that the subject is admiring their reflection in the mirror; however, since the viewer sees the eyes of the person in the mirror, that subject is actually looking at the reflection of the painter. This perception effect is often used in the arts, the cinema and photography.

This painting has a fascinating history, for its first 150 years it hanging in the houses of Spanish courtiers, before being purchased and brought to England to hang in Rokeby Park, a country house, in Yorkshire in 1813.  Then after the National Gallery, London acquired this painting, it was attacked and severely damaged in 1914 by the suffragette Mary Richardson, in what was her most famous act of defiance. The painting was restored and returned to display at the National Gallery and is today one of its more popular works.

Diego Velázquez was a Spanish painter, who was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV of Spain, and one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age. From the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Velázquez’s artwork was an influence for realist and impressionist painters, in particular, Édouard Manet. Many modern artists, including Picasso and Dalí, have paid tribute to Velázquez by recreating several of his most famous works.

Exploring Velázquez

Reflections

  • Have you seen the “Venus Effect” in other paintings?

Venus at her Mirror

  • Title:                     Venus at her Mirror
  • Alternatives:         The Toilet of Venus, The Rokeby Venus
  • Artist:                   Diego Velázquez
  • Year:                     1647–51
  • Medium:              Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions          H: 122.5 cm (48.2 in); W 177 cm (69.6 in)
  • Museum:             The National Gallery, London

Diego Velázquez

  • Name:                Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez
  • Born:                  1599 – Seville, Spain
  • Died:                  1660 (aged 61) – Madrid, Spain
  • Nationality:        Spanish
  • Movement:        Baroque
  • Notable works:

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“Venus, thy eternal sway
All the race of men obey.“

– Euripides

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Photo Credit: Diego Velázquez [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons