The Birth of Venus (Bouguereau)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
The Birth of Venus
French: La Naissance de Vénus
William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) - The Birth of Venus (1879).jpg
ArtistWilliam-Adolphe Bouguereau
Year1879 (1879)
Mediumoil on canvas
Dimensions300 cm × 218 cm (120 in × 86 in)
LocationMusée 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 Classical Greek and Roman ideal of the female form and beauty, on 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 form, and these traits are shown in the painting.[3] Her head is tilted to one side, and her facial expression reflects that she is calm and comfortable with her nudity. She raises her arms,[4] arranging her thigh-length, brown hair, swaying elegantly in an "S" curve contrapposto, emphasizing the curves of her body.[5]

The model for Venus was Marie Georgine, princess of Ligne.[citation needed] In 1861, she was on a short holiday in Paris with her lover. Together, they modeled for Bouguereau's Abduction of Psyche and Flora and Zephyr. He worked out Venus and other sketches and paintings later 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 and photographed by Antoine Samuel Adam-Salomon.

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]


  1. ^ Annette Labedzki. "His Most Famous Painting (The Birth of Venus) - William-Adolphe Bouguereau". Retrieved 15 October 2012.
  2. ^ "Study of the Head of a Woman for "Offering to Eros"". Archived from the original on 11 November 2013. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  3. ^ a b c "William Bouguereau. The birth of Venus. La naissance de Venus c1879". Retrieved 21 March 2012.
  4. ^ Similar to Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres' Venus Anadyomène.
  5. ^ a b "Venus Anadyomene: The Mythological Symbolism from Antiquity to the 19th Century". Retrieved 21 March 2012.

External links[edit]

Media related to The Birth of Venus at Wikimedia Commons