Venus and Cupid (painting)

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Venus and Cupid
Sleeping Venus
Artemisia Gentileschi - Sleeping Venus.JPG
Artist Artemisia Gentileschi Edit this on Wikidata
Year c. 1625
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 96.52 cm (38.00 in) × 143.83 cm (56.63 in)
Location US

Venus and Cupid (Sleeping Venus) is a circa 1626 painting by Artemisia Gentileschi in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.[1] Venus and Cupid is a depiction of a sleeping Venus, who reclines on a blue bed covering and rich crimson and gold tasseled pillow. She wears nothing except a thin wisp of transparent linen around her thigh. Her son Cupid fans her with richly colored peacock feathers as she drifts to sleep. He is gazing at her with an adored, raptured expression. In the background, there is a window looking out onto a moonlight landscape where a temple to the goddess lies. Venus’s face has full cheeks, heavy lids, a prominent nose, and small protruding chin—all features of Gentileschi's own face.[2] The body movements are natural: Venus’s hand rests lightly on her side, her legs are gently laid together. The work blends together realism and classicism through its iconography and the artist’s style.[3]


Artemisia Gentileschi's artistic style was heavily influenced by her father Orazio Gentileschi. Artemisia worked under her father in his work shop, learning from him. Ignoring the conventions of the time, Orazio sent his daughter to study under his friend Agostino Tassi.[4] Tassi, however, sexually assaulted Gentileschi throughout her tutelage. Although she did take him to court and Tassi was found guilty and exiled, Gentileschi's reputation was effected negatively.[5] Her rape had a large effect on her career and artistic style. Many of her early works, such as Judith Slaying Holofernes reflect her anger towards Tassi and his actions.[6] Some scholars have noted that her works have often been interpreted in regards to her rape and pursuing trial with Tassi.[7] Furthermore, both Artemisia and her father were followers of Caravaggio, and the contrasts of dark and light that Caravaggio and his followers were known for is evident in both paintings.[8]

The painting was probably commissioned by an important and wealthy patron; Gentileschi painted the blue sheets on the painting using two layers of lapis lazuli, an expensive material for artists to obtain. It is possible that a second artist was commissioned to paint the landscape at the top left of the painting.[9]

The painting was part of the Barbera Piasecka Foundation, Princeton, New Jersey.[9] It was acquired by the Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Foundation who gifted it to the museum.


  1. ^ Mann, Artemisia Gentileschi, 6-8.
  2. ^ Bissel, Artemisia Gentileschi and the Authority of Art, 48.
  3. ^ Bissel, Artemisia Gentileschi and the Authority of Art, 48.
  4. ^ Vigué, Great Women Masters of Art, 64.
  5. ^ National Museum of Women in Arts, Italian Women Artists, 198.
  6. ^ Mann, Artemisia Gentileschi, 34.
  7. ^ National Museum of Women in Arts, Italian Women Artists, 198.
  8. ^ Vigué, Great Women Masters of Art, 65.
  9. ^ a b Christiansen, Keith; Mann, Judith Walker (2001-01-01). Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi. New York; New Haven: Metropolitan Museum of Art ; Yale University Press. ISBN 1588390063. 


Bissel, R. Ward. Artemisia Gentileschi and the Authority of Art: Critical Reading and Catalogue Raisonné. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.

Grabski, Józef. “On Seicento Painting in Naples: Some Observations on Bernardo Cavallino, Artemisia Gentileschi and Others.” Artibus et Historiae 6, no. 11 (1985): 23-63.

Kultermann, Udo. “Woman Asleep and the Artist.” Artibus et Historiae 11, no. 22 (1990): 129-161.

Mann, Judith W., ed. Artemisia Gentileschi: Taking Stock. Turnhout: Brepols, 2005.

National Museum of Women in the Arts. Italian Women Artists: From Renaissance to Baroque. Milan: Skira Editore S.p.A., 2007.

Vigué, Jordi. Great Women Masters of Art. New York: Watson-Guptill Publications. 2002.