Over the centuries, illicit love is a favourite theme for the artists all around the world. The earliest form of the episode of the adulterous lovers Mars and Venus, exposed by Vulcan, the cuckolded husband of Venus, appeared in Homer’s Odyssey, which was probably written in the 8th century BC. However, it also appeared in Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Venus, the goddess of love and beauty, empowered with her exquisite features and seducing smile, attracted many suitors, gods and mortals alike. She had a passionate love affair with Mars, the handsome and aggressive god of war. However, she was married to graceless Vulcan, the powerful god of fire, who was old and lame. Consequently, Vulcan and Venus had a loveless marriage and no children. Nevertheless, the goddess of love and sex was not barren. With Mars, she gave birth to a beautiful daughter, Harmonia, the goddess of harmony and concord.
According to the story, one day the sun god Apollo discovered Venus and Mars, while they were making love in Vulcan's marriage bed.and reported it to Vulcan. Naturally, the husband became mad and instead of confronting his wife, he craved for revenge. As he was a blacksmith, he created a mesh made of bronze, so fine that not even the gods could see them, and spread them across his marriage bed, draping them all over the bedposts. After completing the arrangement, he told Venus he was leaving for Lemnos for an important job. As the lovers tried to take the advantage of Vulcan's absence, they were trapped in the net, unable to stir their hands or feet.
Vulcan lied to Venus about leaving for Lemnos and he was actually waiting for the right moment. As the adulterous lovers were trapped in the metal mesh, he entered the room along with other gods, whom Vulcan invited to witness the illicit lovers. The gods burst out laughing to find the adulterous lovers caught unwittingly in the compromising position, while Mercury cracked a joke that he would not mind being caught in the trap himself. To make a long story short, as Vulcan finally made them free, Venus left for Cyprus and Mars to Thrace.
Since the days of the Renaissance, the story of Mars and Venus caught in a net is a favourite subject for the painters. Venus and Mars, a panel painting by the Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli depicts the youthful lovers resting in a forest setting, surrounded by playful baby satyrs. Mars was shown reclining and enjoying his exquisite slumber after passionately making love to Venus, while Venus, the voluptuous goddess of love and sex was sitting composed and keeping an eye on the situation. Two satyrs are shown as playing with helmet and lance of Mars, which are sex symbols, while another one mischievously blows a small conch shell in his ear in an effort, so far unsuccessful, to wake him up.
Apart from Botticelli, many other famous painters like Vincent Sellaer, Tintoretto, Joachim Wtewael, Carlo Saraceni, Nicolas Poussin and others, successfully worked on the subject.