An Allegory with Venus and Cupid (1540-50) by Bronzino
Interpretation of Mannerist Mythological Painting

Pin it

Allegory with Venus and Cupid
By Bronzino.
Regarded as one of the
Greatest Paintings Ever.

An Allegory with Venus and Cupid (1540-50)


Analysis of An Allegory with Venus and Cupid
Interpretation of Other Mythological/Allegorical Paintings


Name: An Allegory of Venus and Cupid (1540-50)
Artist: Agnolo Bronzino (1503-72)
Medium: Oil on wood panel
Genre: Mythological painting
Movement: Mannerism
Location: National Gallery, London

For the meaning of other celebrated masterpieces,
please see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).


Bronzino, worked at the court of the Duke of Florence - Cosimo de' Medici (1519-74), later appointed Grand Duke of Tuscany by Pope Pius V. Unlike earlier members of the Medici family in Florence, like Lorenzo the Magnificent (1449-92), Cosimo was no connoisseur of the Florentine Renaissance, although he understood the propaganda value of art both for his family and the city. Bronzino - taught by Pontormo (1494-1556) and inspired by Michelangelo (1475-1564) - was appointed court painter to the Medici in 1540, becoming well known for his Renaissance portraits (of Cosimo, his family, and members of the court like Bartolomeo and Lucrezia Panciatichi) as well as his religious paintings and altarpieces. His particular style of Mannerist painting - which remained consistent across the genres - was deliberately cool and erudite, so as to appeal to a cultured, courtly audience that enjoyed visual puzzles. Cosimo commissioned An Allegory with Venus and Cupid as a gift for King Francis I of France - noted for his lusty adventures - whose own court at Fontainebleau was an active centre for Mannerist artists, including Italians like Francesco Primaticcio (1504-70) and Rosso Fiorentino (1494-1540). For more, see: Fontainebleau School of Mannerist Art (c.1528-1610).

Analysis of An Allegory with Venus and Cupid

This panel painting, also known as "Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time" and "A Triumph of Venus", was purposely designed as a complex, erotic allegory that included a range of iconographic symbols and emblems from the world of mythology. At the same time, its composition provides Bronzino with ample opportunity to demonstrate his virtuoso figure painting and portrait art.



The picture symbolizes the consequences of unchaste love. Its main figure - Venus, goddess of love - (identified by her doves and by the golden apple given to her by Paris) disarms her son Cupid (identified by his wings and quiver) by taking away his arrow as they embrace incestuously. Both are nude.

Other characters embody concepts associated with the dangers of physical love. The nude child ("Pleasure") showers Venus and Cupid with rose petals oblivious to the pain (of love) from the thorn that pierces his right foot. Behind him, a creature ("Deceit") with the head of a girl but the body of a beast offers Venus a sweet honeycomb with one hand while hiding the sting in her tail with the other. Meantime, behind Cupid (left) is a dark screaming figure who symbolizes either "jealousy" or perhaps the effects of "syphilis", which had reached epidemic proportions by the mid-16th century. The figure in the top left of the picture represents "Oblivion" (depicted with a hollow head that cannot remember anything) is trying to draw a veil over the events below. However she is stopped from doing so by the balding man ("Time") with the hour-glass on his back (top right) - an allusion perhaps to the fatal long term effects of syphilis, or simply to the transience of all physical pleasure. The latter interpretation fits with the symbolism of the hour-glass, a common memento mori that reached a high point in the Vanitas painting of the 17th century.

Notice also the mannered and claustrophobic lack of space, with the entwined figures pressing up against each other as well as the picture plane. The finest work is undoubtedly in the composition of the faces, in their alabaster-style coldness, as well as the shimmering colour of the background draperies.

Interpretation of Other Mythological/Allegorical Paintings

The Sleeping Venus (1510) Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.
By Giorgione.

Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-23) National Gallery, London.
By Titian.

Bacchanal of the Andrians (1523-5) Prado, Madrid.
By Titian.

Jupiter and Io (1533) Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
By Correggio.

Judgement of Paris (1632-6) National Gallery, London.
By Rubens.

Et in Arcadia Ego (1650-55) Louvre Museum.
By Nicolas Poussin.

Allegory of Divine Providence (1633-39) Palazzo Barberini, Rome.
By Pietro da Cortona.


• For more allegorical paintings by Mannerists like Bronzino, see: Homepage.

© All rights reserved.