This series serves as a forum for the reassessment of several important

paintings in the Western tradition that span a period from the Renais-

sance to the twentieth century. Each volume focuses on a single work

and includes an introduction outlining its general history, as well as a selection of essays that examine the work :fron1 a variety of method-

ological perspectives. Demonstrating how and why these paintings have

such enduring value, the volu1nes also offer ne\.v insights into their

meaning for contemporaries and their subsequent reception.


Masaccio's ((Trinity, !J edited by Rona Goffen, Rutgers University Raphael's "School of Athens," edited by Marcia Hall, Temple

University Titian's ((Venus of Urbino," edited by Rona Goffen, Rutgers

Univ~~sity Caravaggio's a Saint Paul,'! edited by Gail Feigenbaun1, National

Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Rembrandt's ((Bathsheba with David's Letter," edited by Ann Jensen

Adams, University of California, Santa Barbara

David's "Death of Marat," edited by Will Vaughn and Helen Wes-

ton, University College, University of London

1\1.anet's aLe Dt.jeuner sur l'Herbe," edited by Paul Tucker, Univer-

sity of Massachusetts, Boston Picasso's ((Les Demoiselles d!Avignon!" edited by Christopher Green,

Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London


Edited by

Rona Goffen Rutgers University



The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge Cil2 IRY, United Kingdom


The Edinburgh Building, Can1bridge, cn2 2RU, United Kingdom 40 West 20th Street, New York, NY roo11-4211, USA 10 Stamford Road, Oakleigh, Melbourne 3166, Australia

© Cambridge University Press 1997

This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and so the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written pennission of Can1bridge University Press.

Introduction and Chapter 3 © Rona Goffen

First published 1997

Printed in the United States of America

Typeset in Ben1bo

Library of Congress Catalogin,g~in-Publication Data

Titian's Venus of Urbino I edited by Rona Goffen.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 0-521-44448-9 (hardback). - ISBN 0-521-44900-6 (paperback) l. Titian, ca. 1488-1576. Venus of Urbino. 2. Titian, ca.

1488-1576- Criticism and interpretation. 3. Nude in art.

I. Coffen, Rona.

ND623.T7A7885 1997

759.5 - dc20 96-22314

A catalog record for this book is available from the British Library,

ISBN 0-521-44448-9 hardback ISBN 0-521-44900-6 paperback



List of fllustrations

List of Contributors


Introduction, RONA GOFFEN

1. Titian, Ovid, and Sixteenth-Century Codes for Erotic Illustration CARLO GINZBURG

2. So-And-So Reclining on Her Couch DAVID ROSAND

3. Sex, Space, and Social History in Titian's Venus of Urbino RONA GOFFEN

4. The Venus of Urbino, or the Archetype of a Glance DANIEL ARASSE

5. Veiling the Venus of Urbino MARY PARDO

page vn











and Barolsky and Ladis, "The 'Pleasure of Deceits,'" pp. 32-6-whose "ludic" reading of the picture still depends on its composite stn1cture of visual and literary conceit.

53. Our task is not a "game of unriddling the inysteries of the past," as Gombrich formulates it in his essay on "Aims and Limits of Iconology" (in Symbolic Images, p. 21). Rejecting the very idea of levels of meaning, Gombrich would restrict us to a search for a presumed "dominant mean-

ing, the intended meaning or principal purpose of the picture" (pp. 15- r6).

54. Valery, "The Nude," p. 48. 55. Persia, Trattato dell'ingegno dell'huomo, p. 98; "filJ gran Titiano padre del

colorire; i1 qual, secondo ho udito di sua bocca, & di quegli cho sono ritrovati presenti a' suoi lavori, quando volea disegnare o colorir alcuna

figura, tenendo avanti una donna o un huomo naturale, cotal oggetto cosi

nlovea la vista corporale di lui, & il suo spirito cosi penetrava nell'oggetto di chi ritirava, che facendo vista di non sentire altra cosa, che quella,

veniva a parere a' circostanti d'esser andato in ispirito." We owe our

awareness of this important passage to Hope, "Problen1s of Interpreta-

tion," p. 170.

56. Richter, Literary Works of Leonardo 2:249, no. 1202. 57. I have discussed some of these issues in J11eaning of the Mark. 58. Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens, pp. 195-6. Copyright 1947 by Wallace

Stevens. Reprinted by pennission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.



Because hu1nan biology is unchanged betvveen Titian's time and our O"\VU, art historians have often assumed that sexual behavior is likewise immutable, and that the comportment of Ti- tian's people (especially his women) is understandable in terms of modem expectations. But "much of what we take to be natural," as senlloticians remind us, "is in fact cultural" - and that includes Ti- tian's perceptions of sexuality. r Whatever else niay have changed between Titian's time and our own, however, two things have remained the same:[Men and women still get 1narried; and when they can afford to do so, they commemorate the event with picture';.:} All modem wedding photos are essentially the same; they fulfill societal expectations precisely by reiterating the expected pattern. But the disparity ofRenaissance wedding pictures is such that almost no tvvo seem alike, and often as not, this appears to have been due as much to the patrons' wishes as to the artist's imagination.

Titian's Sacred and Profane Love is a case in point, a marriage picture that resembles no other example of its genre (Fig. 9).' Titian was commissioned to paint the canvas around 1514, to honor the wedding of the Paduan noblewoman Laura Bagarotto and the future grand chancellor of Venice, Nicolo Aurelio. The Sacred and Profane Love is identified as a marriage picture by the costume of the so-called Profane Love, traditional for a V eneto

A slightly different version of this essay was first published as "The Problematic Patronage of Titian's Venus of Urbino" in the journal ef Medieval and Renaissance Studies 24 (1994).



bride: white gown, belt, gloves, roses, the myrtle wreath (myrtus coniugalis), and hair loose on the shoulders. Her red sleeve and slipper are also appropriate, red being another bridal color in Re- naissance Venice, particularly among the nobility. (The dress was originally red, overpainted white by Titian.)' The same marital context also explains her lidded vessel: Sixteenth-century Venetian brides received symbolic wedding gifts in such silver caskets. 4

If Titian indeed replicated the bride's gift and her gown, did he also portray their owner? Although some art historians see a like- ness here, I suggest that this idealized beauty is not a portrait in the sense of a purposeful record of individual appearance - or at least not the appearance of Laura Bagarotto. The na1neless woman who actually posed for the Sacred and Profane Love also posed for the Flora of about I 5 I 5 in Florence (Fig. 7), and the same generic, Ti- tianesque type had already appeared in the Paduan Miracle of the Speaking Infant of I 5 I r.5 If it were the bride herself whom we see clothed, moreover, it would also be the bride whom we see nude; and this seems unthinkable in light of sixteenth-century Venetian mores. When a bride is shown nude in Renaissance marriage pic- tures, she is generally represented by a "body double," a model or an ideal of the artist's imagination, not an actual likeness of the bride herself. 6

The woman commonly known as "Profane Love" is then more appropriately called a bride, but the traditional name for the nude is in fact correct. As her antique lamp confirms, she is "Sacred" or "Celestial Love."7 These two figures represent the same individual, albeit in different conditions or states of being. As bride, crowned with myrtle, she holds Venus's roses and the gift presented by her husband at their marriage; and as wife, nude yet chaste, she turns to the bride as though to exhort her(self) to the Love symbolized by her lamp. Even without this traditional attribute, however, the purity of Sacred Love is evident in every aspect of her appearance and de- meanor, whereas her companion could seem wanton to a modern viewer unaware that she is gowned as a bride, hence chaste by definition, this virtue being foremost in any Renaissance recitation of her desired qualities. 8 Nonetheless, to a modern observer, it may seem that one is asked to take this bride's chastity on good faith, because Titian has made her sexy while apparently doing nothing to reassure us about her virtue. But this interpretation ignores the


historical and cultural context of sex and sexuality; in other words, it assumes that behavior is natural and hence unchanging, that Titian's understanding of sexual matters was the same as our own. And that is untrue, as the Sacred and Profane Love demonstrates.

For Titian, female chastity and sexuality are not antagonistic but sympathetic, interactive aspects of the bride's character. Visualiza- tion of the bride's sexuality is tantamount to her empowerment as a female, and Titian nlagnifies this power by two means: her posture, a vigorous seated contrapposto, and her forceful glance. Her address- ing the beholder - namely, her husband - directly in this way is neither brazen nor submissive, as historians have assumed. On the contrary, believing in the magic of images - that images may hear, speak, and see - Renaissance people understood that such a glance suggests reciprocation, here signifying 1narital consent and love communicated through sight because the eyes are the windows of the soul.

Although the image addresses him, however, the husband him- self is absent, and the ouly male figure is a winged boy. The putto (or Cupid himself) encourages the water to flow from the metal spout that has transformed an ancient sarcophagus into a fount, and the spout is adjacent to the new husband's coat of arms. The general sexual significance of all this is particularly appropriate to the wedding commemorated here, the first marriage for the groom but the second for his bride. The sarcophagus-fountain commutes the sterility of her widowhood into the fecundity of remarriage, a theme reiterated by the preternaturally large rabbits in the land- scape behind her.

What the Sacred and Profane Love demonstrates, then, is that sexy women and more or less overt allusions to sexual reproduction may be represented in a Renaissance marriage picture; that a woman's glance may assert her awareness and individuality while expressing love of her beholder; that a bride may even be shown nude, although she is likely to be impersonated by a "body double"; and that such models may indeed represent brides in their marriage pictures, whether clothed or nude. In other words, a Renaissance woman's wedding picture need not represent her own features, and it certainly need not confor1n to twentieth-century standards of bridal decorum.

Lorenzo Lotto's Venus and Cupid of the 1520s in the Metropoli-


tan Museum is identified as a bride by her veil and crown, and her fecundity is visuahzed by the remarkably carnal shell suspended above her (Fig. rr). Cupid leers at her while ejaculating or urinat- ing, which is its symbolic equivalent, taking aim so that the liquid penetrates a marriage wreath: Procreation is thus literally enframed by matrimony.9 Representir1g the bride as Venus, Lotto evokes a dual tradition. The identification of the beloved with the goddess of love is a trope fa1niliar from ancient times. Less familiar to us, however, although a commonplace in the Renaissance, is the evo- cation of the ancient goddess in n1edical texts on human reproduc- tion. ro In other words, both poets and gynecologists cite Venus, and in this regard, Lotto's imagery, which startles 1nodern viewers, is consistent \.Vith sixteenth-century perceptions of marital love and generation. It is, of course, unthinkable that a modern couple would publicize their marriage in such a way - or even with the comparatively tame Sacred and Profane Love; unthinkable that the New York Times would publish either picture among its wedding announcements. But what Titian and his contemporaries took to be natural in their marriage imagery we recognize to be cultural.

As we have seen, the heroines of the Sacred and Prefane Love ~nd Lotto's Venus and Cupid are identified as brides by their garments, including Venus's bridal crown and veil. Even today brides are often identifiable by their dress, but otherwise, a contemporary woman's marital status is not apparent from her clothing. A medi- eval or Renaissance woman's marriage, on the contrary, would be marked by her acquisition of a wardrobe reflecting her change of status from maiden to matron and her transition from her father's household to that of her husband. Part of the financial settlement of a marriage typically earmarked funds for this worthy purpose.'' A woman's clothing was thus specifically associated with matrimony in medieval and Renaissance Italy, from the beginning of her mar- riage to its end, when her husband's kinsmen were expected to provide her widow's weeds, while also possibly confiscating what was left of her corredo or trousseau as part of the estate. (A Renais- sance man's dress, on the contrary, was determined by age or office but was umelated to his marital status.)

This bridal context explains one of the most idiosyncratic details ofTirian's Venus of Urbino, consigned to Duke Guidobaldo II della Rovere of Urbino in 1538: the two servants who are either remov-


Figure 15. Titian, Venus '?_{Urbino, detail of background. Photo: Scala/ Art Resource.

ing or replacing a gown in a cassone or greatchest (Figs. r, 8, 15)." That is, I suggest that Venus's garment implies her corredo. Simi- larly, the cassone, or rather the two cassoni - because these great- chests were always made in pairs - also refer to matrimony. Cassani were traditionally comnllssioned by the bridegroom or his kinsmen on the occasion of his wedding and were intended for the storage of clothing, particularly his wife's trousseau. 13 To be sure, unmar- ried women, including courtesans, also had to put their clothing somewhere - but evidently not in cassoni. The detailed inventories of the estate of the "sumptuous courtesan" Julia Lombardo, com- piled in Venice in 1542, list nu1nerous storage chests of various dimensions - "casse, casele, casselete," for example - but no cas- soni, and (more to the point) there are no matched pairs among the specified chests. r4 Titian's twin cassoni are then purposeful signifiers, to be understood as signs of matrimony, the furniture equivalent of


the bouquet of roses and the myrtle plant, plants that were then and still remain familiar bridal attributes, used as such also in the Sacred and Profane Love and in Lotto's wedding picture.''

To these various references to marriage we may add the dog that dozes at Venus's feet. Surely this is "Fido," unless Titian was being uncharacteristically perverse in all this matrimonial iconography. Such a dog may sleep because the person who has just entered is not an intruder, he is the master of this household. '6 And the dog himself suggests that the household in question was indeed that of the duchy ofUrbino, for the same spaniel (or alittermate) dozes on the table next to Eleonora Gonzaga della Rovere, the duke's mother, in Titian's portrait of I 536-8. 17 To be sure, no one can say to whom Fido belonged - whether he was actually a household pet of the della Rovere court(s) or Titian's own puppy, readily avail- able to pose. But I think one can say with some certainty that Titian would not have been so gauche as to represent the duchess's painted canine companion in another composition for the same

--household if it could be considered inappropriate and offensive to do so. Surely Titian, by the 1530s an experienced courtier, would have been incapable of such an impropriety. Even were the dog his own and not the della Revere's pet, its dozing in two works meant for the same household implies some connection between them. Evidently Venus's household is also located in the duchy of Urbino. 18

Despite these various referents, however) most scholarship calls the Venus "pornography for the elite," as Orest Ranum and others would have it, a courtesan whose impersonation of the goddess "fooled no one. " 19 But given all the accoutrements of matrimony, why this stubborn inodem reluctance to recognize Titian's protago- nist as a bridal Venus? The answer lies in the figure of Venus herself, for unlike the nude Sacred Love, her characterization appar- ently belies all the inanimate references to marriage and indeed to her own divinity, overwhelming their mute testimony with her own potent sexuality. Simply put, this woman seems far too sexy to be chaste.

Titian's heroine lacks classical propriety, the demeanor expected (by modern critics, at least) of an ancient goddess. In particular, her alert intelligence may seem inimical to divinity and, for that matter, to chastity (Fig. r 6). Renaissance people, however, did not necessar-


Figure r6. Titian, Venus of Urbino, detail of face. Photo: Alinari/ Art Resource.

ily share the modern assumption that Venus must be diffident to retain her divinity. Botticelli's Venus, for example, remains entirely alert while MarS sleeps, overcon1e by their recent sexual encounter (Fig. 17).'° That these mythological beings obey common laws of human biology does not in the least deprive them of their classical identities. Not coincidentally, this painting has been identified as a marriage picture - and the composition alludes to yet another mar- riage picture, Aetion's lost Nuptials of Alexander and Roxana, known to the Renaissance through Lucian's ekphrasis in the Herodotus. 21

To be sure, the Florentine Venus does not look at us; she turns her eyes toward her beloved - which is precisely the dynamic of Ti- tian's Venus, although now the object of the goddess's desire is before her, not within the picture. We have seen that the bride of the Sacred and Profane Love addresses her beholder with comparable forthrightness. Although books on comportment might counsel ladies to look down, Titian's women offer different advice, appro-


Figure 17. Sandro Botticelli, Venus and Mars. London, National Gallery. Photo: Alinari/ Art Resource.

priate to the conception of matrimonial consent. zi. To be sure, their gazes may also be characterized as "unan1biguous sexual invita- tion," as one art historian would have it,23 but the invitation is gennane to the n1atrimonial context and in no \.Vay promiscuous. The critics' presumption of impropriety is a misconception that

Manet's Olympia popularized (Fig. 2).'' When Edouard Manet transformed the Venus of Urbino into the

Olympia (1863), he did more than rename her; he also redefined his subject's morality. Even without seeing the painting, French peo- ple could understand this from the title alone, "Ql)'IDR~" being a traditional name of ill repute. Manet's protagonist is undeniably a prostitute. Available to all comers and surrounded by explicit refer- ences to her trade, Olympia receives her next customer - by impli- cation, the beholder. But is this true of her Venetian predecessor? In a domestic setting and without Cupid or other explicitly mytho- logical paraphermJia, let us grant for the moment that she may be a goddess or a mortal. If mortal, and even if a courtesan or mistress, she is presented with clear indications of social status - pearls, two servants, a gown, the dog, and a well-furnished bedchamber - not an isolated, rumpled bed, a hissing cat, and a maid with the unseen intruder's floral offering. Aud these trappings confirm what each woman reveals about herself in her expression and gestures: Olym- pia is cynical, reluctant, exhausted; Titian's woman is confident, intelligent, alerr - and welcoming. To see the Olympia as "the



Figure 18. Titian, La Bella. Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi. Photo: Alinari/ Art Resource.

closest parallel to" Titian's Venus, as Charles Hope suggests, is to iguore 400 years of social history and of art history.''

Looking closer to home in order to explain Venus's seeming lack of classical propriety, scholars have also observed that the same model appears in another painting acquired in 1536 by the duke's father: Titian's La Bella, described in Urbinate sources as the "woman in a blue dress" (Fig. 18).'6 The painting was acquired by


Francesco Maria della Rovere in 1536, two years before the Venus was dispatched to his son and successor, Duke Guidobaldo. The critics' implication is that her reappearance in the Venus of Urbino somehow demonstrates her immorality or at least her mortality. This reasoning is specious. The anonymous woman's representa- tion in La Bella and in other works of the rnid-153os, such as the Vienna Woman with FurJ is clearly unrelated to the meaning of any of these compositions.27 Rather, it is nothing more than testimony to her having been employed by Titian as a model during those years - just as he had employed another anonymous beauty some twenty years earlier to pose for the Sacred and Profane Love, the Flora, and the mother of the Speaking Infant. The actual identities of these models have been lost to history, although they may well have been prostitutes, given that such wo1nen often combined modeling with the oldest profession; and for all we know, they may indeed have been employed by Titian also in this sense. But even were that the case, it is not germane to their characterization in art. In Titian's art, the anonymous beauty becomes a mythic being; she becomes Sacred and Profane Love or Venus herself; or indeed she becomes, as Elizabeth Cropper has suggested in another context, the very embodiment of beauty, the beautiful woman as the synecdoche of beautiful art, as in the aptly named Bella. ' 8 And in this process, her historical identity is taken from her: Her own biography is irrelevant. - Admittedly, there does seem to be some basis in historical fact for the modem critic's skepticism regarding the character of Ti- tian's protagonist. The trouble starts with the first owner of Titian's masterpiece, Guidobaldo II della Rovere, who referred to the painting as "la donna nuda," "the nude won1an," in letters of March 9 and May l, 1538, to his ambassador in Venice, Gian Giacomo Leonardi.'9 Most art historians have taken the duke's terse phrase to be a definition of Titian's subject, and they see confirmation in the woman's bold demeanor. But just as there is another way to interpret her glance, there is also another way to read this text, and that is with the realization that della Rovere needed only a two-word reference to identify the painting to his agent. Indeed, della Rovere's pithiness is characteristic of such informal letter writing and of many contemporary legal documents (such as contracts and inventories), which are more concise than



precise in their references to art in part because both reader and writer could refer to the object itself Not every contemporary observer, moreover, was so succint as the duke. For Giorgio Vasari, who saw Titian's painting in the guardarobai a room (or rooms) in the ducal apartments of Guidobaldo's palace at Pesaro, the subject was in fact a "young Venus, reclining, with flowers and certain fine fabrics around [her], [which are) very beautiful and well fin- ished. "J0 Whereas the dnke had mentioned the painting only briefly in order to instruct his agent, V asari was providing a profes- sional's description of Titian's work in a published biography ad- dressed to a c1tltivated audience. To be sure, each -writer was cor- rect in describing Titian's subject: She is both a "nude woman" and "a young Venus" - the one being tantamount to a pithy yet accu- rate account of the other. But as a fellow artist's description of Titian's composition, Vasari's title has particular authority. Yet in the absence of Cupid and other traditional mythological accoutre- ments, what made Vasari think that this woman is Venus? The answer is that for Vasari, as for other informed viewers, confirma- tion of her identity is found primarily in her pose - a pose adapted from Giorgione's Sleeping Venus (Fig. 3).

More than twenty-five years separate Giorgione's invention from Titian's emendation, and he changed the prototype in two conspicuous ways: Venus is now indoors, and she is awake. Asleep, Giorgione's Venus seems demure in comparison with Titian's sen- tient, responsive heroine. As we have seen, that is one reason why critics believe in the divinity of the former while doubting that of the latter. The other reason is the presence of Cupid, painted out in 1843 and now visible only in X-ray (Fig. 19).3'

Giorgione's Cupid and the landscape were "finished by Titian," as we know from Marcantonio Michiel's contemporary descrip- tion; and it seems that it too was a marriage picture, commissioned by the Venetian nobleman Girolamo Marcello to honor his mar- riage in 1507.32 Giorgione conflated two or three ancient types in the Dresden Venus, combining the 1nodest or pudica gesture in- vented for a standing Venus and the sleeping posture of classical characters, reclining with one arm flung over the head (e.g., the Vatican Ariadne). While the action of the right arm to indicate sleep was employed for numerous figures in ancient and Renaissance art, however, the pudica gesture of the left arm was more restricted in


Figure 19. Giorgione, Sleeping Venus, Reconstruction based on X- radiograph. Photo: Venice, Museo Civico Correr.

its use, perhaps because this gesture had a name and a history. As readers of Pliny know, the pose was conceived by Praxiteles for the Aphrodite of Cnidos (Fig. 4). Supposedly surprised by a worshiper as she steps from her bath - the statue was apparently set in a pool of water - the goddess conceals herself as best she can, placing one arm across her breast and the other over her pudenda: She is literally modest or ashamed (pudica) but provocative at the same tirne.33

Ever since Praxiteles's day, his invention has been associated primarily with Venus, as in Botticelli's Birth of Venus - although not exclusively with her, as we shall see. Giovanni Bellini, whose brother Genrile owned an antique Venus, adapted the pose for his seated Nude with Mirror (Fig. 5).34 Her identity is uncertain for some of the same reasons that confuse us about Titian's Venus ef[Jrbino, namely, the absence of traditional mythological attributes - unless we count the mirrors as such - combined with the explicit moder- nity of her setting. In this regard, Bellini's Nude, signed and dated 1515, is the primary antecedent of Titian's conception. Signifi- cantly, it too was most likely a marriage picture: Suffice it to say


Figure 20. Titian, Venus with the Mirror. Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Andrew W. Mellon Collection. Photo: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

that her snood is the kind of head covering worn only by married women in Renaissance Venice.35

Like Bellini, Titian also adapted the pudica pose for half-length figures - for example, the repentent, hence modest, Mary Magdalen now in the Pitti. This is evidently the Magdalen that Vasari ad- mired in the guardaroba of the duke of Urbino in Pesaro, where the Venus of Urbino was likewise displayed.36 Titian repeated the pose for half-length nude or partially nude beautiful women, such as the Washington Venus with a Mirror, painted about 1555 (Figs. 20, 2r). 37

But more significant in relation to Titian's understanding of the


Figure 2I. Titian, Venus with the Mirror, detail. Washington, D.C., Na- tional Gallery of Art, Andrew W. Mellon Collection. Photo: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D. C.

classical pose are those instances when he did not use the pudica, although one might well have expected him to do so: in the Venus and Cupid with Partridge (c. 1532-3), now in restoration at the U:ffizi, and in the "Venus and the Musician" series - that is, in all the compositions othervvise reminiscent of the Venus ef Urbino (Figs. 13, 22).38 Yet even in the Venus of Urbino Titian departed from the venerable prototype in two significant ways. The first is


Figure 22. Titian, Venus and Cupid with l 1artridge. Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi. Photo: Alinari/ Art Resource.

straightforward: Venus does not cover her breast with her right arm but rather props herself up on the pillows while clutching a bou- quet of roses. The second variation, however, is problematic: Un- like the ancient Venus pudica, she does not merely conceal, she caresses herself (Fig. 23). The only precedent for this that I know, and at any rate the most conspicuous one, is the Dresden Venus; and it's surely not coincidental that Manet also changed this detail, so that Olympia's hand bars access to herself

Many observers are reluctant to acknowledge that the goddess's gesture is an action, not a passive concealment, although both Giorgione and Titian clearly show her fingers contracted, not ex- tended, as in the ancient prototype and indeed as in other medieval and Renaissance depictions of the pudica, including the examples mentioned here. Other observers who acknowledge the caressing gesture of the Venus of Urbino see it as confirmation of the woman's immodesty, an implication of lasciviousness. There is, however, a different way to interpret this action, one that is consistent with


sixteenth-century mentality.39 Under normal circumstances, this kind of self-caress was unequivocally condemned by medieval and Renaissance theologians and physicians. But they endorsed it in one particular situation, based on a mistaken view of gestation: From Galen's time on, the woman's so-called emission was gener- ally believed relevant to conception. And conception ~ or its possibility~ was the primary justification for sexual intercourse, according to church teaching. In order to achieve this desideratum, fe1nale masturbation was deemed acceptable and sometimes neces- sary.4' Indeed, every medical treatise I have consulted, from Galen (d. 201), the unrivaled ancient authority, to Gabriele Falloppio, professor of anatomy at Padua in the mid-sixteenth century ( d. 1562), to Ambroise Pare, his greatly influential French contempo- rary, makes the same recommendation, explicitly or by implica- tion.41 Doing so, the physicians may evoke Venus in their obstetri- cal texts, as was mentioned in relation to Lotto's picture (Fig. II). 42

And they commonly offer another piece of advice that may be

perti11ent to the Ven.uses by Giorgione and Titian. All medical autlioriries agreed that the right side of the human

body was warmer than the left, thanks largely to the location of the liver. The right side of the body, the dexter, like the right side of everything else, was thus considered superior to the left, the sinis- ter. All authorities likewise agreed that the male was superior to the female and that his superiority derived from biological warmth, in contrast to her inherent coldness. Consequently, the physicians concluded, the woman wishing to conceive a male child should tum to her right side during or immediately after intercourse.43 The future father, similarly, should provide seed from his right testicle, although this is admittedly harder to control. 44 Art histori- ans have considered niany formal and iconographic reasons to ex- plain why Titian's later variations of the reclining female nude have all turned to recline on their left sides (Figs. 13, 22). But an addi- tional explanation may be that the implications of fertility and gestation, evoked by the pose of the Venus of Urbino, were no

longer relevant to these later compositions. Be that as it may, one 1niglit well conclude that all this medical

information is amusing but irrelevant; and I do not wish to insist too much on the possible obstetrical significance of the Dresden and Urbino Venuses. Yet the fact remains that all of these suggested


Figure 23. Titian, Venus ef Urbino, detail of figure. Photo: Scala/Art Resource.

references to generation are entirely consonant with the traditional marriage symbolism of Titian's setting and attributes - the roses, myrtle, cassoni, dog, and so on. The same matrimonial context also explains Venus's gesture and her glance. In addition to consent and publicity, enshrined at Trent as two fundamental requirements of Catholic marriage, society expected sexual consullllllation to seal the marital union and children to bless it. 4l While her eyes indicate love and consent, Ven us' s gesture anticipates this consummation and fulfillment.

The Venus ef Urbino is then a marriage picture, unless its every clue, every indicator of meaning, is purposefully misleading. But whose niarriage? Titian's painting was apparently complete when Guidobaldo della Rovere wrote to his agent in Venice about ob- taining it in 1538, although the correspondence does not make clear whether the duke himself had commissioned it. Although


most historians have been inclined to doubt it, I consider that he

did so. The first known mention of the Venus appears in Della Rovere's

letter of March 9, 1538, mentioning the "donna nuda" together with a portrait of himself ("ii ritratto mio"), which was surely commissioned by him. •6 The reference to the portrait together with the Venus may in itself suggest that the latter work was like- wise his conunission. In his second letter regarding the Venus, dated May r of the same year, Duke Guidobaldo repeats his desire to own the picture and voices concern that another buyer, with cash in hand, may get it before he can find the money to fulfill his

promise to Titian. To be sure, less eccentric con1positionsi both sacred and profane,

might be painted on speculation, kept in the shop for eventual buyers or to be offered to distinguished patrons, as Titian offered a Venus to Charles V and a Magdalen to King Philip.47 Indeed, like Giovanni Bellini before him, Titian and his shop frequently repli- cated and varied successful compositions. But the Venus of Urbino was unique.'' Surely it had been ordered by somebody, and that individ- ual was most likely Guidobaldo della Rovere. To be sure, della Rovere's terseness leaves son1e uncertainty about this - but there is no uncertainty about his concern to get the painting, and his concern was in fact warranted by Titian's well-known readiness to satisfy my customer with cash in hand. Some eighteen years earlier, for exam- ple, the painter had entertained an offer from Alfonso d'Este for the Saint Sebastian completed in 1520 as a panel of the polyptych commis- sioned by Bishop Altobello Averoldi, papal legate to Venice, for SS. Nazzaro e Celso in Brescia.49 That the Sebastian eventually went to its intended destination had more to do with Alfonso's apprehension about offending the legate than with Titian's probity in such matters. Even were Guidobaldo della Rovere the commissioner of the Ve- nus, as I suggest, he would have had good reason for his anxiety that Titian might sell it to someone else, able and willing to pay on the spot. The duke's letter, therefore, does not preclude his having ordered the painting and indeed may imply the opposite. At the least, it demonstrates that della Rovere was familiar with the work and wanted very much to have it. Given the uniqueness of the composition, his interest in the Venus would make more sense were he in fact the commissioner. Gnidobaldo was only twenty-four in



the spring of 1538, when his portrait and the Venus were already completed - some six months before he succeeded his father on October 22 and presu1nably at least a year or two after the initial connnission or commissions. Whatever combination of high- mindedness or crass self-importance may have motivated this preco- cious patronage of Titian we shall never know, but Guidobaldo's eagerness to have these paintings (which, we remember, he could not afford) suggests a deeper interest in the arts than historians usually perceive in him. At any rate, the duke was "sufficiently cultivated" to befriend such distinguished men ofletters as the two Tasso and Annibal Caro.5°

Some years ago, Theodore Reff suggested that the Venus of Urbino commemorated Guidobaldo's wedding to Giulia Varano in 1534.'' Most scholars have dismissed the argument as untenable because Guidobaldo's bride was only ten years old when their mar- riage took place (the groom was twenty) - and this, moreover, was four years before Titian consigned the picture. It is worth recalling, however, that we do not know when the painting was commis- sioned and that Titian was in any case often notoriously slow to complete a work - perhaps especially so when he had not been paid. Many noble brides were espoused at comparably tender ages, usu- ally with the understanding that their marriages would be consum- mated only after they had reached menarche. Sometimes provisions were made for the young bride to share her husband's roof but not his bed until she reached womanhood. Guidobaldo and Giulia may have been formally married in 1534, some two years after their "engagement," but it is almost inconceivable - both biologically and socially- that their union was consununated at that tim.e. Such a marriage, involving an underage bride and a groom compelled to delay his sexual possession of her - and hers of him - could well explain the quirks of Titian's composition. The Venus of Urbino may have been conceived in anticipation of the hoped-for consumma- tion of Giulia Varano's marriage to Guidobaldo della Rovere by representing the sexually and emotionally mature bride as she wel- comes her husband to her bedchamber. And by 1538, Varano at fourteen would have been an adult by contemporary standards. (Indeed, according to recent studies, fourteen was the average age at menarche in the sixteenth century.)" Perhaps Guidobaldo hoped that the beauty of the goddess would enhance the beauty of the


children his young wife would bear him, as promised by numerous physicians (including Scipione Mercuri, whose Comare was pub- lished in Venice in 1596 - replete with many invocations of Ve- nus).53 Or perhaps Guidobaldo saw the painting as a visual wish fulfillment in reference to his bride, hoping that Giulia herself, a child when she first came to Urbino, would be inspired by the beauty - and the sensuality - of the image. The Dominican friar Giovanni Dominici had counseled earlier generations to decorate their homes with sacred images precisely to influence the behavior of their children.s+ Guidobaldo and Giulia herself might have seen the Venus as the secular equivalent of such pictures, with a compara- ble power to influence the beholder. At the same time, as in other Renaissance marital imagery, niceties are preserved, decorum hon- ored, by means of the classical idiom. Perhaps this disjunction be- tween the actual identity of the Renaissance bride and her ancient surrogate, the goddess of love, made female sexuality safe(r) by distancing it, by shrouding it in classical fantasy. To deny Titian's woman (or Giorgione's or Lotto's, for that matter) her divinity is also to deny her sexual power: If she were merely a courtesan, her sexuality would be delimited by sixteenth-century Italian standards because its extramarital purpose is fornication, not gestation.

This explains various differences between the "Venus and the Musician" series and the uxorial Venus of Urbino. The musical Venus's head is more in profile, her body now more :frontal, turned toward the beholder as though offered to him - a "no-strings" offering, without the binding glance. No longer pudica in any sense, she does not call attention to her pudenda, as the Urbino Venus does; and when the musical Venus holds anything in her other hand, we see that a phallic flute (the fiauto d' amore) has re- placed the bridal bouquet of roses. It's as though Titian has secular- ized his goddess in these later works, removing Venus from the don1estic and marital sphere to place her in another world, or rather another role, where sexuality and love are not tied to procre- ation and hence to matrimony. Although in bed, these women are explicitly removed from the domestic realm; and that in itself makes these musical nudes extramarital.

For the Venus of Urbino, on the contrary, Titian created his only domestic interior. The wall hangings, the masonry and column of the window (or loggia), the cassoni, and the square patterns of the


Figure 24. Titian, Venus ef Urbino, diagram of perspective by Susanne L. Philipson.

pavement all serve as modules to assert" the measurability of this space, convincing us of the pcrspectival illusion.ss-while insisting on the verisimilitude of his setting, 11owever, Titian asserts not spatial unity but rather a disjunction between foreground and background, even though we- are invited to recognize the contextual relation between the two: a bed in the foreground, bedroom furnishings io the background. But the vertical wall with its green curtain severs these spaces with surgical precision, and their apparent continuity is contradicted by the disjunction of scale. The standing maid measures slightly less than one-third the figure ofV enus; the space represented here cannot provide the distance necessary to validate such disparity. Titian reiterates this disjunction by vanquishing the vanishing point of his own perspectival construction with Venus's eyes (Fig. 24). Following his spatial directives, we come to a point on the wall between the sill and the closed cassone, and somewhere above Ve~ nus's navel - that is, we come to nowhere. The force of this spatial logic loses to the po,yver ofVenus's gaze, which is further honored by every other trick in Titian's Venetian book - by the manipulation of


color and light, the direction of folds in the various fabrics, and the elimination of any other glance (even the dog's) from competing for our attention.

Titian's lighting underscores the spatial disjunction. The back- ground is lighted from the left, as the standing maid's cast shadow confirms. In the foreground, although Venus's feet cast shadows to

the right, her red cushions are illuminated from the opposite direc- tion. Their cast shadows create strong, ahnost parallel diagonals that lead the viewer's gaze to Venus's, where it wishes to go in any case. And these same diagonals join in space with others - the edges of the pillows and sheets - to form a series of triangles or triangular

sections, echoing the patterns of the drapery against the wall, all framing Ven us with their coloristic geometry.

The two geometric schemes, rectangular and triangular, meet where the edge of the foreground wall bisects the composition - the wall marks the center almost exactly - where, as everyone has long since noticed, Venus conceals her o\Vll triangular form. This is not compositional vulgarity but rather a means of honoring the

female life force: Venus's body, or more precisely that part of her body associated with procreation in the Renaissance mind, is made both the pictorial center and the connection between Venus herself - that is, her individual personality - and her societal, famil- ial role, encapsulated in the domestic background. In the Sacred and Profane Love, the same woman was depicted twice, in one narrative moment but in different states of being, in order to represent different aspects of her identity and status. In the Venus of Urbino, one woman is provided with two reahns that are related not by the usual means of perspective or illumination but by her body itself

Spatial unity is illusory, then, as is its frequent concomitant in Renaissance art, temporal unity. Here one woman seems to have been captured in one passing mon1ent, and Titian underscored the transitoriness of his scene with such details as the roses escaping from Venus's bouquet, the maid's rolling her sleeve, and so on. But temporal precision is deceptive in this seemingly unified setting. By her actions and demeanor, Venus presents not one moment but rather embodies the entirety of her relationship to her beloved.

The Venusof Urbino may be understood as a metaphor, Titian's image of the woman as wife, transcending narrative time in order

to express eternal truths - in this case, the verities of the wifely role


as perceived by Renaissance people. Yet generative sex, although given pride of place, takes a secondary role to Venus's personality,

which includes but is not subsumed by her sexuality. That the Venus of Urbino looks so forcefully at the beholder is assertive but not brazen. In short, the eyes have it: Venus's eyes, which irresist- ibly hold our own, assert her character, her intellect, and her power to choose.


I. Sholes, "Uncoding Manu," p. 127. See also Caulfield, "Sexuality in Hun1an Evolution"; Ciavolella, "MCtamorphoses sexuelles"; l{eller, " 'Gender/Science System' "; Laqueur, "Orgasm, Generation"; and esp. Rubin, "Traffic in Women."

2. I have discussed the painting at length in "Titian's Sacred and Prefane Love and Marriage" and at greater length, with transcriptions of relevant docu- ments, in "Titian's Sacred and Prefane Love: Individuality and Sexuality in a Renaissance Marriage Picture." In the present essay, up to note 9, I reiterate information from these publications -which is germane to the Venus ef Urbino.

3. On the condition and recent restoration of the painting, see appendix II to Coffen, "Titian's Sacred and Profane Love: Individuality and Sexuality." For the white gown, which may be identified with the gown listed in the record of the restitution ofBagarotto's dowry, see Venice, Archivio di Stato, Consiglio de' X, Misc. Codici, May 16, 1514, published in Coffen, "Titian's Sacred and Prefane Love and Marriage," pp. 113, 118.

4. See Goffen, "1'itian's Sacred and Prefane Love-and Marriage," p. 113. 5. For the Flora, see Romani, "Flore," and for the Miracle efthe Speaking

Infant in the Scuola di Sant' Antonio, see Goffen, ''Adultery, Madness, and Marital Misery."

6. The Ancients provided many illustrations of such idealized portraiture, and in Titian's day, Isabella d'Este provided the most egregious example. For the master's fictive portrait of her, c. 1534-6, now in Vienna at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, see Wethey 2: 95-6, cat. no. 27; and Ferino, "Portrait of Isabella."

7. Sodoma (Giovanni Antonio Bazzi) used the same attribute for his Allegory ef Celestial Love, c. 1504, Siena, Monte <lei Paschi di Siena, Raccolta Chigi Saraceni; see Coffen, "Titian's Sacred and Prefane Love and Marriage," pp. 114-15; and Bartalini, in Domenico Beccefumi, pp. 242-3.

8. On this "home truth," see, inter alia, Kelso, Doctrine, pp. 273, 276, and passim.


9. See Goffen, "Titian's Sacred and Prc:_fane Love and Marriage," p. I 19, with additional bibliography; and for a somewhat different interpretation,

Beguin, "Vfnus et Cupidon."

ro. See note 42. rr. See inter alia Klapisch-Zuber, "Griselda Complex"; and Lydecker, "Do-

1nestic Setting," pp. 153-6. 12. Modern usage of this term is misleading; by cassone, RenaisSance people

sometimes intended a large chest to hold flour or grain, although in the

sixteenth century, Aretino, among others, also used the word to mean a

chest for clothing. See Battaglia, Grande dizionario, pp. 851-2; and Lydecker, "Domestic Setting," p. 54, who substitutes greatchest. House-

hold inventories may distinguish cassoni, _forzieri, and geffani (cefan1); see Thornton, Italian Renaissance Interior, p. 192. On cassoni in general, see Schubring, Cassani; Callmann, Apollonio di Giovanni; Watson, "VirtU and Voluptas"; and the forthcoming volume by Cristelle Baskins, Adversity's

Heroines: Narrative and Gender in Italian Domestic Painting. 13. The critical issue is thus not the choice of word but the fact that "marriage

chests" almost inevitably came in pairs, e.g., the two painted for Isabella

de'Este's wedding in 1490, the tvvo in the bedchamber of Pierfrancesco

Borgherini in 1515, and the two commissioned by the father of a Ferrarese

bride in l 502; for these and other examples, see Thornton, Renaissance

Interior, pp. 195, 201, 204. As he explains and as this last example demon- strates, not all cassoni were purchased by the husband - but they seem

always to have come in tvvos. Note also the pairs of greatchests provided by

tvvo fifteenth-century Florentine brides in Lydecker, "Domestic Setting,"

pp. 55, 157, although he also notes that "the tradition of having them in

pairs seems to have vanished" during the Cinquecento.

14. The inventories are transcribed in Santore, "Julia Lombardo," pp. 62-79.

Santore translates the terms for various types of chests as cassoni, a word

that is not used in the documents themselves.

15. Although Titian's cassoni are carved, in keeping with contemporary taste, not painted like fifteenth-century greatchests, cassoni themselves were going out of fashion in the sixteenth century, at least in Florence; see

Lydecker, "Domestic Setting," pp. 55, 158-9. For Titian's cassoni in relation to the meaning of the Venus, see also Arasse, "Le nu couche."

16. De Tervarent, Attributs et symboles, pp. 94-5. For the dog that likewise knows his master in the Prado Danae, see Nash, Veiled Images, p. 28.

17. The painting and its pendant, the portrait of Eleonora's husband Fran-

cesco Maria della Rovere, both now in the Uffizi, were restored in

1990 by E. Masini; see Cecchi, "Portrait of Eleonora Gonzaga della

Rovere," and Valcanover, "Portrait d'Eleonora Gonzaga." For Titian's

relationship -with these patrons and their son, Guidobaldo II, see Varese,


"Tiziano e i Della Rovere"; Bo et al., Tiziano per i duchi di Urbino, passim, esp. Bernini, "Tiziano per i duchi di Urbino." According to Bernini (p. 20), Eleonora rejected the idea of posing for her portrait,

which was based on the same model who posed for the Venus ef (]rhino, purchased by her son. On the Renaissance distinction betvveen portrait

and likeness - the fom1er need not represent the latter - see note 6.

Regarding the identity of the dog(s), see also Bernini Pezzini, "Eleonora

Gonzaga," p. 41.

18. In the earlier version of this essay, published in the Journal ef Medieval and Renaissance Studies, I suggested that Titian confirmed his reference to the duchy of Urbino by means of the bifore fenestration, a feature typical of

Urbinate architecture. The rectangular bifora is indeed characteristic of

Urbinate ecclesiastical architecture but was not used for palaces, as Dr.

Sabine Eiche explains in a letter to me. Recognizing that Titian's column

is in any case too large for a window, she suggests that the opening may

represent a loggia.

19. Ranum, "Refuges of Intimacy," p. 252. This view has been espoused by

others, perhaps starting vvith Wilhehn Heinse, who declared that "Titian

did not-wish to paint any Venus but rather only a courtesan"; Ardinghello, p. 332. Tietze followed suit, asserting that there was "no hint of any

mythological connotation" in sixteenth-century mentions of the Venus; see his "Early Version of Titian's Danae," pp. 206-7. lfeinse's and Tietze's interpretation has been embroidered by more recent scholars,

among them Ginzburg, in his classic essay included in the present volun1e

and first published in Italian as "Tiziano, Ovidio e i codici della figurazione erotica del Cinquecento"; and Ost, "Tizians sogenannte 'Ve-

nus von Urbino.' " Cf Panofsky, Proble111s in Titian, pp. 109-71. For

bibliography prior to 1978 and for technical information, see Agostini,

"Venere d'Urbino." For a historiography of 1norc recent bibliography,

see Go:lfen, "Renaissance Dreams," pp. 695-701.

20. For the painting in London, the National Gallery, see Lightbown,

Botticelli 2: 55-6, cat. no. B4L 21. Ibid.

22. See Go:lfen as cited in note 2.

23. Hope, Titian, p. 82. Elsewhere, Hope calls these kinds of paintings "mere pin-ups," adding for good measure that "the girls were seen as little more

than sex objects"; "Problems of Interpretation," p. 119.

24. On Titian and Manet, see the essays by T. J. Clark and by David Rosand

in this volume.

25. 1'itian, p. 82.

26. Letter of Francesco Maria della Rovere to his agent Leonardi in Venice,

May 2, 1536: "quel retratto di quella Donna che ha la veste azurra";


published by Gronau, Documenti, p. 92,- no. 28. See also Zecchini, "La Bella," and Goffen, Titian's Women, chap. 2.

27. On the use of the same model, see Wethey, Tittan 2:23, 106. 28. Cropper, "Beauty of Woman." 29. The letters were published by Gronau, "Kunstbestrebunden," p. 19 and

docs. 31 and 33; and rpt. in iden1, Documenti, pp. 93-4, docs. 31 and 35. 30. Vasari-Milanesi 7: 443. For an analysis ofVasari's text, see Pardo's essay in

this volume. The papal legate Giovanni della Casa had seen the Venus in 1544; Campana, "Giovanni della Casa," p. 382. On the palace itself, see Valazzi, ed., Corte di Pesaro, passin1, esp. Eiche, "Corte di Pesaro."

3 I. For the reconstruction and a discussion of epithalamic imagery, see Ander- son, "Giorgione, Titian and the Sleeping Venus." See also Howard, "Dresden Venus and Its Kin"; and most recently Pleynet, Giorgione et les deux venus.

32. Michiel, Notizie, ed. Morelli, p. 66; Der Anonimo Morelliano, vol. l, Text und Ubersetzung, ed. Frimmel, p. 88.

33. For the story of how she provoked one ardent viewer, see Pliny, Histon'a Naturalis, book 36, chap. 2r.

34. Gentile's statue was the subject of a Latin epigram; see Ziliotto, Raffaele Zovenzoni, p. 109.

35. See Goffen, "Bellini's Nude with Mirror." 36. See Manfrini, "La Maddalena." For the location of the Venus, see note


37. Brovvn, "Venus with a Mirror"; and Valcanover, "Vfnus d: sa toilette." 38. For the U:ffizi Venus, see Squellati, "Venere con Arnorino." For Venus

and the Lute Player, early 1560s, see Zeri and Gardner, Italian Paintings, pp. 77-9. Titian painted numerous variants of the theme, e.g., Venus with an Organist, Madrid, Museo del Prado (inv. no. 420), dated c. 1550; see Urrea, "Venus with an Organist and Dog"; and Giorgi, Tiziano: Venere, Amore e il Musicista.

39. I first posited this interpretation in "Renaissance Dreams,'' p. 699, citing

Lemay, "Anthonius Guainerius,'' pp. 33 r-2 and passim. I suggested that Guainerius's early-fifteenth-century "Treatise on the Wo1nb" might be

an anomaly with only fortuitous bearing on Giorgione's and Titian's

imagery. Now I have found, on the contrary, that whatever these artists may have intended, physicians and theologians comrnonly related female masturbation in the context ef the marriage act to gestation.

40. Fourteen of seventeen Renaissance theologians studied by Jean-Louis Flandrin allowed female masturbation to achieve orgasni and thus, as they believed, to encourage gestation. See Flandrin, "Sex in Married Life," pp. 114-29, esp. p. 119. As Flandrin notes, this "behavioural reality" was

related to an understanding and eventual acceptance of sexual pleasure


and to the conception of marital love. See also Noonan, Contraception, p. 322, on the declaration of the Council of Trent regarding love in mar-

riage (Session 24, November II, 1563). Affirming the indissolubility of marriage, the council quoted St. Paul's injunction: "Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church."

4r. Galen, On the Usefulness ef the Parts ef the Body, Vol. 2; and Bullough, "Medieval Medical and Scientific Views of Women," pp. 493-7, on Galen's recommendations (followed by Trotula and Avicenna, inter alia).

Adelman, Marcello Malpighi, vol. 2, part 2, Main Currents ef Ernbryological Thought, esp. pp. 744-58, dealing with embryology from Galen (pub- lished in Greek by Aldus in 1525; Latin translations began to appear in 1541) to Fabricius, De Formatione ovi et pulli (published in 1621). See also Laqueur, "Orgasm, Generation." Similarly, on the necessity of the female "emission,'' see Mondino, Anothomia Mundini; Massa, Epistolarnm Medici- nalium, vol. 2, fols. 136r~v, Epistola 19 (dated 1555), "Consilium ... de morbo Gallico,'' on coitus; also Falloppii, Omnia, quae adhuc extant opera; Mercuri, La comare, p. 6: The won1b's anatomy is related to the female sexual response; "si gonfia anco alle donne ne gli appetiti di Venere."

Finally, Pare, Oeuvres, on sexual pleasure, simultaneous emission, and gestation, e.g., pp. 454, 586~7.

42. Venus is invoked, for example, by Guainarius (cited in note 39) and by Mercuri (cited in note 41).

43. For the equation of male with right and warmth as opposed to female-left- cold, see inter alia: Galen, On the Usefulness ef the Parts ef the Body, pp. 626, 628; and Mercuri, Comare, p. 36. Mercuri (p. r) had already explained that these unfortunate female characteristics accounted for the difficulties of parturition: "essendo la donna di 1nolta humiditi ripiena, e di pochissimo calore, come vuole Hippocrate, e Artistotele in mille luochi; e per ciO anco pit\ :fredda de gli huomini." See also Benedek, "Beliefs about Human

Sexual Function,'' pp. 103-5 (citing Galen, book 14). 44. Mercuri, Comare, p. 37, reiterates this Pythagorean theory: If more semen

comes from the right testicle and is emplanted ("formentato") on the

right side of the uterus, "certamente sara [il bambino] maschio ... ma all'incontro se il seme humane procedera pill dal testicolo sinistro ... e sari ricevuto nella parte sinistra dell'Utero, all'hora sari femina per la

:fredezza, e debolezza delle parti cosi mandanti, come recipienti." See also Horowitz, " 'Science' of Embryology,'' pp. 88-9, on the persistence of the theory.

45. See Goffen, "Titian's Sacred and Prefane Love and Marriage,'' p. 117, vvith bibliography in the notes.

46. This and the following letter are cited in note 29. 47. Titian announced the gift of "una figura di Venere" for Charles Vin a


letter to the emperor dated December 8, 1545, published in Ferrarino,

Tiziano e la carte di Spagna, p. 25, no. 31; cf p. 23, no. 27, a letter from Diego Hurtado de Mendoza to Charles, October 5, 1545, which may refer to the same picture, here identified only as a "quadro de fantasia."

For the Magdalen, see Goff en, "Titian, His Donors and Sacred Subjects,"

p. 91, citing the artist's letter to King Philip of April 2, 1561. 48. Titian's Naples Danae originally repeated the background motifs of the

Venus ef Urbino, as revealed in X-radiographs (Fig. 12). I suggest that he changed the background in the Danae, overpainting the servants and cassoni, precisely because these references to marriage were no longer


49. See Goffen, "Titian, His Donors and Sacred Subjects," pp. 86-7. 50. Cecini, "Cultura e letteratura," p. 334. The duke's second wife, Vittoria

Farnese, especially encouraged the friendship with Caro (1507-66).

SI. Reff, "Meaning of Titian's 'Venus of Urbino.'" Despite his passion for a

daughter of Gian Giordano Orsini, by Decen1ber 26, 1532, Guidobaldo

had acceded to his father's wish that he marry Varano; the man"iage was

celebrated two years later, on October 12, 1534. Francesco Maria died

four years later, and Guidobaldo succeeded to the title on October 22.

Giulia herself died on February 18, 1547, and Guidobaldo remarried less

than a year later, taking Vittoria Farnese, daughter of Duke Pier Luigi of

Parma, as his bride onjanuary 30, 1548. See Petraglia, "Regesto," pp. 9-

16, esp. pp. 12-13.

52. Amundsen and Diers, "Age of Menarche," pp. 363-9.

53. Although the placement of the painting before 1548 is not documented,

it was probably always displayed in the guardaroba. Paintings and other

precious objects were customarily kept there, as Dr. Sabine Eiche kindly

informs me (written communication). J)ella Casa saw the Venus in 1544

and Vasari four years later, specifying the guardaroba; they are cited in note

30. On the power of iinages to influence the appearance of the unborn,

Mercuri, Comare, p. 52, cites Hippocrates and E1npedocles and accord-

ingly recommends the display of appropriate statues or paintings: "tenere

in camera pittura, ritratti, 0 statue de' suoi parenti, 0 d'altre persone illustri, ma fatte da inano eccellente, e belle; overo nell'atto venereo

ricordare alla donna l' effigie di cui si desidera la similitudine." See also p. 78, with a reference to Avicenna.

54. Dominici, R.egola def govern.a di cura familiare, parte quarta, pp. 34-5.

55. It is not clear whether the opening in the wall is a window, as generally

assu1ned, or a loggia; see Dr. Sabine Eiche's comments as cited in note 18.



Titian's Venus of Urbino represents the first great fetish of I' .

the nude female body offered to a (male) glance in Western paint- · ing (Figs. 1, 15). It is not, strictly speaking, the prototype of the reclining nude woman, which, in various guises, haunts inuseums and private collections; the Sleeping Venus of Giorgione better fills this role, despite its own antecedents (but we may ask whether a prototype can exist at this level). Rather, the Venus of Urbino con- structs the European archetype of the "nude woman" in painting, the donna ignuda) as the panel was called before Giorgio Vasari, in 1568, baptized this naked body with the name of"Venus."' Today, more than three centuries later, it is difficult to ignore the fact that, of all the reclining nude women that tradition offered him, Manet invoked Titian's Venus in order to conceive his own Olympia. Thus, at the very beginning of modern painting, Manet reanirnated or reaffirmed the effectiveness of a configuration that had beconi_e

This chapter provisionally concludes a reflection first sketched in 1976 at the international congress on Tiziano e Venezia; taken up again in two subsequent publications (Tiziano, Venere d'Urbino and "Le nu couche clans la peinture de la Renaissance"); and emended as a result of my participation in a seminar held in November 1991 at The Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, at the invitation of Professor Michael Fried. In particular I should like to thank Professors Fried, Elizabeth Cropper, and Charles Dempsey for their very fruitfitl observations of- fered on that occasion, and also Professors Rona Goff en and David Rosand for the many conversations that we have had about the Venetian nude woman, the donna ignuda. (Translated from the French by the editor.)



Figure 2. Edouard Manet, Olympia. Paris, Musee d'Orsay. Photo: Giraudon/ Art Resource.

on the Grand Canal. Representing male and female allegorical figures, the detached frescoes are preserved in the Galleria Fran- chetti of the Ca' d'Oro in Venice. Having proved himself with this first public commission, Titian was then invited to paint three frescoes for the Confraternity (or lay brotherhood) of St. Anthony of Padua, adjacent to the great Franciscan church dedicated to that saint in his city, called simply "II Santo." The fresco cycle occupied Titian for one year from December 1510 to December 1511, after which he returned to Venice. There he remained until his death in l 5_76, except for brief sojourns in various cities (including Bologna, Ferrara, and Mantua) and a longer stay in l 545~6 in Rome, where Michelangelo visited his studio.'

Titian's early association with the Paduan Friars 1nay have proved influential in obtaining his next important public cotIDnis- sion: the Assunta or Assumption of the Virgin for the high altar of S. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, the principal Franciscan church of Ven-


ice. 5 The largest panel painting in the world (6.9 meters high) - and one of the most beautiful - the Assunta took two years to co1nplete; when it was unveiled in 1518, Titian's primacy was assured. Fro1n then on, Titian dominated painting in Venice and eventually in Europe. His i11fluence on the other great masters active in the Venetian Republic, notably Tintoretto, Veronese, and the Bassano (all slightly younger than he), can hardly be exag- gerated; similarly, many of his successors elsewhere in Europe, including such giants of Baroque painting as Velazquez and Ru- bens, were profoundly affected by him. Even before completing the Assunta, Titian had been taken up by some of the wealthiest and most influential patrons in Venice and in Padua (then ruled by the Venetian Republic). Among them was the humanist poet Pietro Bembo, who tried to persuade Titian to join the papal court in Rome, an invitation that the painter declined. But after the completion of the Assunta, the greatest patrons ofltaly and Europe came to Titian. And the greatest of these were certainly the Em- peror Charles V and his son, Philip II of Spain.

Titian's first commission for the emperor was a portrait (now lost) painted around the time of Charles's coronation, probably in early 1530. Many other imperial commissions followed, mostly for portraits and religious works, and in 1533 Charles ennobled Titian with the title of"Knight of the Golden Spur, Count of the Lateran Palace and of the Imperial Consistory." Conferring this extraordi- nary honor on the painter, Charles explained that he was following the example of Alexander the Great - his own predecessor, as it were~ and Alexander's favorite painter, Apelles, whom the em- peror compared to Titian. Charles recalled that Alexander had allowed only Apelles to paint his portrait, and similarly, the em- peror praised Titian as a portraitist. To be sure, complimenting a painter by comparing him to his most famous ancient predecessor had become commonplace by the 1530s: Numerous masters had already been praised as the "new Apelles" or as "Apelles reborn" (Apelles redivivus). But when the cliche is repeated by the Holy Roman Emperor in the context of knighting his own "Apelles," it regains all its metaphoric power.

Charles continued to honor Titian with his patronage and with numerous favors, social and financial; and beginning in 1548, the


painter worked for the emperor's son Philip as well. First as prince, then briefly as king of England and consort of Queen Mary Tudor ("Bloody Mary"), and finally as king of Spain, Philip became Titian's most ardent patron, both as the co1nmissioner of numer-

ous works and as the eage;r recipient of paintings representing subjects chosen by the artist himsel£ Today, conditioned by the modern art market, we are accustomed to the idea that a collector

will pay for a work by a particular master, the subject represented being comparatively unimportant. Orie speaks first of buying a Picasso, for example, and only then of the subject. But this is a very recent develop1nent in the history of art, a situation anticipated

and indeed encouraged by Titian. Even Michelangelo was given specific commissions by -his patrons, the principal works initiated by the artist himself being drawings that he might offer as gifts to his friends. Titian's artistic freedom in his relationship with Philip was unprecedented and perhaps not repeated until ni_odem times. Moreover, probably no painter has been more influential than he - not only in tem1s of his compositions and figure types (as Manet reminds us) but even more importantly in tem1s of his painterly brushwork and expressive handling of pigment, his exquisite colorism and treatment of light.

By 1538, then, when Duke Guidobaldo della Rovere received the Venus of Urbino, Titian was already world famous. Anyone who was anyone wanted (or already had) a portrait by Titian, and in- deed, he managed to portray most of the titled heads of Italy and Europe. In addition to the portraits, Titian's Venetian patrons tradi- tionally preferred sacred works, such as the Assunta; clients else- where were also interested in secular compositions, which Titian himself described with the literary tenns poesie or favole (poems or fables). Sometimes based on ancient literary sources, son1etimes derived from the artist's (or his patrons' or advisors') imagination, these visual "poems" alinost always include beautiful women and alinost always treat the theme oflove. The three canvases executed for the studiolo of Duke Alfonso d'Este of Ferrara between 1518

and l 523 belong to the first category, being visualizations of texts by Philostratus and Ovid (the Worship of Venus and the Bacchanal of the Andrians, both now in the Museo de! Prado in Madrid; and the Bacchus and Ariadne in the National Gallery of Art in London). 6 The Venus ef Urbino illustrates the second category and seems to


Figure 3. Giorgione, Sleeping Venus. I)resden, Gemaldegalerie Alte Mei- ster, Staatliche Kunstsarmnlungen. Photo: Alinari/ Art Resource.

have been conceived without specific reference to any literary source, contemporary or ancient.

Unlike Duke Alfonso's poesie, then, the Venus has no explana- tory text. Rather, it is to be understood in relation to its visual

sources: the Sleeping Venus of about 1508-ro by Giorgione (Fig. 3), Titian's former colleague at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi; and the

ancient Venus Pudica, or so-called modest Ven us (Fig. 4). Gior- gione's Venus sleeps in a landscape, while the classical Venus stands with her arms before her, trying (in vain) to conceal her nudity from the beholder. Titian's protagonist, however, is awake, reclin- ing on a bed in a sixteenth-century palace. His old master, Gio- vanni Bellini, had already represented a classicizing nude in a con- temporary interior, but she is seated, attending to details of her toilette, and her setting is a neutral location - a domestic setting, to be sure, but a roon1 with no specific clues to its customary use (Fig. 5). Titian's nude, on the contrary, reclines on her bed in a room decorated with marriage chests, called cassoni, i1nmediately recog- nizable to sixteenth-century viewers as bedroom furnishings. No one before Titian had placed a classicizing nude in such a setting, and few artists had ever shown a woman - especially a nude -

beholding the beholder so directly. In this regard, the forthright


Figure 4. Medici Venus, after Praxiteles, Aphrodite or Venus efCnidos (Venus Pudica). Florence, Galleria degli U:ffizi. Photo: Alinari/ Art Resource.

glance of the gowned woman in Titian's Sacred and Profane Love may be seen as Venus's predecessor (Fig. 9). Similarly, the women of Sacred and Profane Love anticipate the type of female beauty represented in the Venus of Urbino, although it might be more accurate to say that Titian idealized his models in each case to suit his preconceptions of beauty. Even the palette of the Venus recalls that of the earlier work, combining the complementary colors red


Figure 5. Giovanni Bellini, Nude uifth Mirror. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum. Photo: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

and green with white and the flesh tones of the nudes. Indeed, Giorgione's Sleeping Venus and numerous other Venetian works of the earlier sixteenth century made use of the same color combina- tion. (Because the green pigments have aged badly in these paint- ings by Giorgione and by Titian, the original chromatic effects must be restored in the mind's eye.)

The composition of the Venus ef Urbino also incorporates ele- ments found in earlier works, notably its asymmetry, the juxtaposi- tion of closed and open spaces, and the sudden contrast of large foreground forms with much smaller forms in the background - without anv transitional midground. Thus Titian's Venus ef Urbino purposetUlly recalls paintings coTnpJeted as much as twenty-five years before. The Venus is in no way retardataire, however; rather, as we shall see in reading the essays in this volume, these recollec- tions of earlier works are relevant not only to the appearance but also to the rneaning of Titian's goddess. Moreover, other stylistic elements relate the Venus of Urbino to such contemporary works as the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, which Titian began in


gestures of Satyrs, and the shameful and drunken furies of Bacchus and the Bacchantes." 1:i

However vague and allusive, Politi' s polemic cannot help but call attention to Titian's paintings on mythological themes, which included, alongside the bacchanals, the Venuses, the Dianas, also the "Danae" painted in Rome and then copied many times, r4 obviously to satisfy specific orders placed by the artist's highly placed clients. Thanks to the condenmation by Augustine, the

scene of love between Jove and Danae, as we have seen, came to be considered in the sixteenth century the very prototype of the image created to excite the beholder sexually.

But is it correct to say that these mythological paintings of Titian's are "intentionally erotic"? In recent decades various scholars, influ- enced by Panofsky's iconological approach, have replied in the nega- tive, discerning in them a number of symbols and arcane allegories of a philosophical character. Panofsky's posthumous book on Titian has given the most authoritative support possible to this position. '5 The following pages are intended to reopen the discussion, especially in regard to certain assumptions implicit in iconological studies de- voted to Titian.

First of all, we cannot ignore that contemporaries viewed Ti- tian's mythological "poems" as explicitly erotic paintings. And the artist himself would have agreed. Titian's letter to Philip II has been frequently cited. After recalling the "Danae where one could see everything from the front," he promised to send an- other "poem," one of "Ven.us and Adonis," in which it would be possible to view, "just to vary things," "the other side." 16 But we should also look at what Ludovico Dolce, a friend and great admirer of Titian's, wrote to Alessandro Contarini about this second painting:

The Venus has her back turned, not for any artistic deficiency but to demonstrate double the art. Because in turning her face

towards Adonis, straining with both her arms to retain him, and half-seated on a soft fabric of peacock-blue, she demonstrates in every way certain sweet and lively sentiments, and such that they cannot be seen except in her; the miraculous shrewdness of that divine spirit [Titian] is also revealed that in her intimate



Figure 7. Titian, Flora. Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi. Photo: Alinari/Art Resource.

parts we recognize the creases on the flesh caused by her seated position. Why, it can in truth be said that every stroke of the brush is one of those strokes that nature executes with its own hand .... I swear to you, sir, that there is no man so keen in sight or judgment, that seeing does not believe her alive; nor anyone made so cold by the years, or so hardened in his being, who does not feel a warming, a softening, a stirring of the blood in his veins. It is a real marvel; that if a marble statue could by the

stimuli of its beauty so penetrate to the marrow of a young 1nan,


rary social function. And her blatant address to the viewer, inviting by sight as well as touch, reinforces even as it complicates that dimension of the image in the world. Although Giorgione had reinvoked an antique type ofV enus - as well as Ariadne - reclining in a landscape, the distended female nude had already found her natural pictorial field in the Quattrocento: in the painted panels inside the lids of cassoni, those trousseau chests whose decorations often celebrated uxorial virtue or dynastic generation (Fig. 8). ' 4 It is precisely the furniture format of those panels that is recalled in another painting by Titian, one that can be documented to a

particular marriage. This is the painting generally known as Sacred and Profane Love

(Fig. 9). Although it too has had to withstand more than its share of scholarly attention, at least here we are certain of the picture's patronage and purpose, for two coats of arms affirm the joining of two families.'' The more prominently displayed, above the foun- tain spigot in the relief of the transformed sarcophagus, is that of Nicolo Aurelio. More discreetly hidden, inlaid within the silver bowl, are the arn1s of the Bagarotto family of Padua. Niccolo Aurelio, then secretary to the Venetian Council of Ten, was mar- ried to Laura Bagarotto in May 1514.'6

Confirming the Neoplatonism of the received title, Erwin Panofsk:y has given the Sacred and Profane Love its canonical interpre- tation. '7 His reading, however, has hardly gone unchallenged. Re- cently, the debate over the exact nature of the iconography of the picture has reached a particularly feverous pitch, as serious scholars - in what can only be described as anti-Panofsk:y hysteria - have vehemently argued against any philosophical, especially Neoplatonic, dimension to the painting. Insisting on what they call "straightforward" interpretation, these critics reject the reading of tl1e image as a representation of twin Venuses, terrestrial and celes- tial, or, as described in the early seventeenth century, "Belta disomata e Beltit omata." Instead, they prefer a more prosaic path. Forced by the presence of Cupid into acknowledging the identity of the nude figure, at least, as Venus, they see the clothed beauty as the bride herself; tile painting is thus to be retitled "Laura Bagarotto at the fountain of Ven us. "'8 The extraordinary acuity - not to say fantasy - of physiognomic perception necessary to distin- guish between these two faces is, I confess, beyond my powers,


Figure 8. Florentine School, Painted Cassone, c. 1465-70. New Haven Yale University Art Gallery. Photo: Yale University Art Gallery, Ne; Haven.

Figure 9. Titian, Sacred and Prefane Love (after restoration). Rome, Galleria Borghese. Photo: Soprintendenza per i Berri Artistici e Storici di Roma.


of interpretation - the "object of interpretation" is "primary or natural subject matter." And the "equipment [necessary] for inter- pretation," to stay with Panofsky's outline, is "practical experience (familiarity with objects and events)."36

Crowe and Cavalcaselle faced the hermeneutic problem with their usual Victorian tact. Wondering whether Titian's Flora was

"one of those ladies of light fame who survived to be copied by Rubens under the name of courtezan," they concluded that "The

lover of art may now say it is a matter of little consequence. The 'Flora,' if nothing more, is a lovely ideal which ranges far above the realms to which her earthly lot would seem to bind her. "37 And

the moral generosity of these art historians - however patronizing its tone - inflected critical response, once again, into aesthetic subli- mation: The delicate sensuality of their description, its loving atten- tion to detail, pays full tribute to the effect of Flora on her admirers.

Not quite so delicate is the more recent verdict of a contempo- rary English art historian: "The implication is that these pictures [the Flora and the Venus oj"Urbino] were for the most part mere pin- ups, and that the girls were seen as little more than sex objects."3 8

It is true that in one of the very few early references we have to a picture like the Venus ef Urbino, a reclining nude by Savoldo in the house of Andrea Odoni, the invaluable Marcantonio Michie! lo- cates it in the bedroom over the bed: "La Nucla grande destesa da drietto el letto."39 The location ofSavoldo's picture hardly dimin-

ishes its cultural position. Rather, it would seem to confirm its higher talismanic function: To conceive a child under the sign of Venus increases the chance, presmnably, of generating beauty. And we might imagine a similar location and function for Lotto's Venus and Cupid (Fig. II).

This power of images was acknowledged in a tradition from antiquity through the Renaissance. A century earlier Leon Battista Alberti had recommended that the bedroom of the master of the

family and his wife there be hung only images of "dignity and handsome appearance; for they say that this may have a great influ- ence on the fertility of the mother and the appearance of future offspring. "4° And in the early seventeenth century, Giulio Mancini summarized the function of such "lascivious pictures" in the bed- room, "because once seen they serve to arouse one and to make beautiful, healthy, and charming children.""'


Figure I I. Lorenzo Lotto, Venus and Cupid. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Whatever its ostensible source in the antique Venus f>udica (Fig. 4), the gesture of the Venus of Urbino, even more than that of her Giorgionesque protorype, hardly serves the cause of modesty. It was just this gesture that Mark Twain could not bring himself to describe for fear "there would be a fine howl.".µ The Venetian Venus rather calls attention to her genitalia, and that focus is still more precisely fixed by the central vector of the hanging curtain in the Venus of Urbino - part of the tectonic grid against which her curves are so deliberately measured.43 Compared to Titian's nude,

the manual self-protection of Manet's Olympia seems deter- minedly chaste. The Venetian woman's gesture, not covering but rather stimulating, as Rona Coffen has recently suggested, confirms the licit nature of sexuality in these images; its invitation is to love -within marriage, its allusion to the generative function of such love - the procreation, ideally, ofbeauty.44

To call these images "mere pin-ups" can only strike us as a


finished it in the studio provided for him in the Belvedere - the site of one of the great encounters of art history, according to Vasari: There Michelangelo visited the Venetian painter, saw the Danae, and upon leaving, offered his grudging praise of Titian along with his critique of painters in Venice.5°

Whether or not Giovanni della Casa saw a composition already representing the rape of Danae in Titian's studio in Venice, it is clear from the final painting that the nude he did see was fully capable of being inflected into such a mythological narrative. Indeed, thanks both to della Casa's letter and to the confirming X-rays, we can follow just such a transformation: The receprive object of our atten- tion, "la donna nuda" of the Venus ef Urbino, becomes the more responsive objective of Jupiter's passion. That declension - from passive to active, from iconic to narrative - attests at once to the potentiality of meaning in such images, as the two related paintings in effect comment on and define one another.

"La donna nuda," we may say, exists as a foundational structure, a generic sign latent with a range of significance - froni_ una Venere mondana, goddess of base passion, to the celestial deity of divine love. And the Neoplatonic hierarchy of Venuses articulated just such a range of possibilities. Indeed, the usefulness and appeal of the scheme lie precisely in its ability to accommodate that range of experience, from low bestial lust to the highest spiritual aspiration to union with the divine.

We need not ascribe to Titian any profound commitment to N eoplatonism to recognize how much he profited from the hermeneutic potential of the system. His long series of variations on the basic Giorgionesque invention of the reclining Venus may be read as a commentary on that potential (Fig. 13). While these later compositions, eventually including serenading courtiers, complicate the basic theme in fascinating ways, that complexity builds on the kinds of hierarchies and alternatives we have been discovering - between high and low values, communal and personal, the sacred and the profane, the licit and the libidinous." Within the spread of these extremes lies what we may call the arena of interpretation: a hermeneutic space whose boundaries are defined by a complex of coordinates - historical, cultural, critical, phenon1enological - a space filled with potential, latent with possibilities of meaning.

We can see, then, just how the Venus of Urbino functions within


Figure 12. Titian, Danae (Fan1ese Danae), X- radiograph. From Ludovico Mucchi, "Radiografie di opere di Tiziano," Arte veneta 31 (1977).

Figure l 3. Titian, Venus and Cupid with an Organist. Madrid, Museo del Prado. Photo: Alinari/ Art Resource.