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Venus with a Dolphin, c. 1560-1600

Flanders, 1550-1610
25-1/4 x 10-1/2 x 6 in. (64.1 x 26.7 x 15.2 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
© The Norton Simon Foundation

Not on View

As the goddess of love, Venus personifies female beauty; throughout the ages, poets, painters and sculptors have dedicated themselves to imagining her physical perfections in word and image. In the 16th and 17th centuries, collectors eagerly acquired representations of the fair goddess as much to demonstrate their cultivation and knowledge of the antique as to enjoy the purely sensual aspects of the female nude. This figure was likely displayed in a domestic environment such as a studiolo, a study generally designed for a man, where her fully realized form could be admired in the round.

Venus stands in an elegant contrapposto, with her right hand raised and her head looking down. She may originally have held an apple, an attribute associated with her predecessor, the Greek goddess Aphrodite. Her portrayal here as Venus Anadyomene, who was born of the sea, is signaled by the dolphin balancing behind her and the base that supports them both, where stria, or parallel grooves, indicate the waves of the ocean. Her subtly modeled flesh, slightly elongated limbs and small, beautifully coiffed head convey a sensual elegance that is characteristic of late Mannerist bronzes.

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