Jusepe de Ribera (Jativa 1591 - Naples 1652)
Venus and Adonis
Oil on canvas
cm 179 x 262
The myth of Venus and Adonis has reached its final scene. Adonis, the beautiful young man loved by Venus, has been killed by a boar while hunting. The goddess bursts into the scene with a leap which is not just a dramatic device but reflects the original myth. Ovid, in Book 10 of the Metamorphoses relates that Venus was travelling in a chariot drawn by swans while returning to Cyprus, when she heard the moans of the dying Adonis and came hurtling down from the sky.
Behind Adonis, we see a hunting dog, a shattered trunk and a landscape of somber colors. The body of the young man stands out against the red drapery, a likely allusion to the color of the anemone, the flower into which his blood will be turned.
The event is reinterpreted in Christological terms, as had already been done in literary circles by Giovan Battista Marino in his poem Adonis (1623). Adonis is wounded in his ribs, not his groin as Ovid states, and Venus’ gesture, with her arms raised in desperation, has been related to the iconography of Mary Magdalene.