The Venus of Urbino, painted by the Italian painter Titian, is one of the greatest Renaissance painting of a mythological nature and the iconic version of a reclining female nude. Probably completed in 1534, it was meant for a gift by the Duke of Urbino Guidobaldo II Della Rovere, to his young wife, whom he married for political reasons. At the time of marriage, she was only 10 years old, but at the time of purchase of the painting, she was an adolescent.
Considered as based on the Sleeping Venus by Giorgione, a close friend of the artist, Titian’s Venus is an exercise in female eroticism. However, it is interesting to note that, both Giorgione and Titian had been apprenticed to the studios of Gentile and Giovanni Bellini and it is considered that the Sleeping Venus, depicting the reclining Venus, said to be one of the last incomplete works by Giorgione was completed by Titian.
The youthful female figure in Titian’s Venus stares directly at the viewer, as if she wants to communicate something. While in her right hand she holds a bouquet of flowers that looks like a morning-after gift and her left hand is placed suggestively between her thighs. She appears to be a delicate mortal woman, not the Goddess of Love, the contrast between her warm body texture and the dark background starkly intensifies her sensuality.
With her unabashed nudity and uninhabited direct gaze into the viewers’ eyes, the Venus of Urbino is undeniably erotic, which was once commented by Mark Twain as the foulest, the vilest and the most obscene picture in the world. The dog on the bed, curled-up at her feet symbolizes marital fidelity while a maid in the background, signifying motherhood, looks at a girl who kneels before a chest containing the girl’s bridal garments.
According to critics, the painting was intended to be a teaching model for the Duke’s young wife Giulia Varano and a reminder of her marital obligations. Basically, he hoped that by reminding of her marital obligatory duties, he would be able to persuade his wife not to renounce the erotic aspect of their marriage.
Considered as a treasure of the Venetian High Renaissance, the Venus of Urbino is often cited as the origin of many of Western art's most controversial images like the Nude Maja by Goya and Olympia by Edouard Manet. In1694, the painting was moved to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, where it is still on exhibition