The Birth of Venus (Bouguereau)

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The Birth of Venus
French: La Naissance de Vénus
The Birth of Venus by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1879).jpg
Artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau
Year 1879 (1879)
Material oil on canvas
Dimensions 300 cm × 218 cm (120 in × 86 in)
Location Musée d'Orsay

The Birth of Venus (French: La Naissance de Vénus) is one of the most famous paintings by 19th-century painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau. It depicts not the actual birth of Venus from the sea, but her transportation in a shell, as a fully mature woman, from the sea to Paphos in Cyprus. She is considered the epitome of the finest expressions of the Classical Greek and Roman ideal of the female form and beauty, on a par with Venus de Milo.

For Bouguereau, it is considered a tour de force. The canvas stands at just over 9 ft 10 in (3.00 m) high, and 7 ft 2 in (2.18 m) wide. The subject matter, as well as the composition, resembles a previous rendition of this subject, Sandro Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, as well as Raphael's The Triumph of Galatea.


The Birth of Venus was created for the Paris Salon of 1879. It was awarded the Grand Prix de Rome,[1] and was purchased by the state for the Musée du Luxembourg.[2] The painting is now in the permanent collection of the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.


Detail from The Nymphaeum, executed by Bouguereau in 1878. Venus' figure was enlarged from this nymph.

At the center of the painting, Venus stands nude on a scallop shell[3] being pulled by a dolphin, one of her symbols. Fifteen putti, including Cupid and Psyche, and several nymphs and centaurs have gathered to witness Venus' arrival. Most of the figures are gazing at her, and two of the centaurs are blowing into conch and Triton shells, signaling her arrival.

Venus is considered to be the embodiment of feminine beauty and sexuality, and these traits are shown in the painting.[3] Venus' head is tilted to one side, and her facial expression is calm, comfortable with her nudity. She raises her arms,[4] arranging her thigh-length, brilliantly red hair. She sways elegantly in an "S" curve contrapposto, emphasizing the feminine curves of her body.[5]

The model for Venus was Marie Georgine, princess of Ligne. In 1861, she was on a short holiday (séjours) in Paris with her twin flame (non-nobility). Together, they modeled for his "Abduction of Psyche" and "Flora and Zephyr". Bouguereau worked out other sketches and paintings later in life from photographs he took of the couple. Some of Bouguereau's other works, like La Nuit, are also based on her. Marie was also painted by Léon Bonnat. She has also been photographed by Antoine Samuel Adam-Salomon as madame de la Rochefoucauld. Another portrait with Marie Georgine can be seen in Chateau d'Esclimont, France.

Venus' figure was enlarged from a nymph from Bouguereau's The Nymphaeum, completed in 1878 (a year earlier).[5] The nymph is slightly thinner, and her breasts are fuller and more rounded. Venus' contrapposto is more intense, and her hair is also longer and lighter than the nymph's, but she arranges it almost identically.

To the upper-left of the painting, there is a shadow in the clouds. It appears to be the silhouette of the artist, with a head, shoulder, arm, and a raised fist that would seem to hold a paintbrush.[3]


External links[edit]

Media related to The Birth of Venus at Wikimedia Commons