Agnolo Bronzino “Allegory with Venus and Cupid”. Secret Message to the King

Bronzino. Allegory with Venus and Cupid.
Bronzino. Allegory with Venus and Cupid. 1545. National Gallery of London.

Bronzino’s painting “Allegory with Venus and Cupid” is one of the most mysterious and erotic paintings of Renaissance era.

The artist put in it a secret message, which was intended to the king of France.

What did the artist, or rather the customer of the painting, Cosimo I of Medici, the ruler of Tuscany, want to say to the king?

Why is the foreground not a beautiful scene of love, but a real perversion?

And why there is a terrible head screaming in pain? And a cute girl with paws of a lion and a tail of a snake?

Exposure of pleasure

The painting exposes the destructive power of unreasonable love. But does this apply to the king of France, Francis I?

It turns out yes. Francis I (1494-1547) was a real erotomaniac. In addition to his wife and one or two lovers, he also had a kind of harem. In case he wants to spend the night with several women at the same time.

He did not welcome violence against a woman. He sought ladies, like a true diplomat: wrote poems and passionate speeches to them.   And gave high posts to their husbands and brothers.

But eaten by constant sexual desire, was on the verge of becoming a pervert. Lunches with naked women and crowded orgies are the most harmless of his sexual quirks.

Perhaps that is why Bronzino in the center of his painting placed a scene of perverted love. Cupid is the son of Venus. Their kiss is a symbol of vicious bodily pleasure.

Syphilis

Perhaps the worst thing in the picture is the head of a man crumpled in agony. He screams in pain. His skin is earthy in color.

Fingers twisted and blushed. Presumably, all these are signs of a syphilis patient.

So the artist depicted the terrible consequences of a thoughtless pursuit of sexual pleasure.

Most likely, Francis I became infected with this disease in 1512, at a young age. This insidious disease was not the cause of his death.

But aged him ahead of time. At 52, he looked like a very old man.

Bronzino. Allegory with Venus and Cupid. Fragment.
Agnolo Bronzino. Allegory with Venus and Cupid. Fragment. 1545. National Gallery of London.

Stupidity

Cute boy with an armful of rose petals personifies stupidity. He smiles out loud, although thorns has pierced his foot.

So people in love get stupid and do not notice the dangers.

Bronzino. Allegory with Venus and Cupid. Fragment.
Agnolo Bronzino. Allegory with Venus and Cupid. Fragment. 1545. National Gallery of London.

Francis I was not a fool.

But his sexual obsession definitely prevented him from becoming a great ruler.

Negotiations with family members of the woman he liked were no less important for him than foreign affairs.

Art Quiz

Deception and duplicity

Cute girl with pink cheeks in a green dress holds out her hand with Venus honeycomb.

But please take a closer look. You will see that the dress barely covers her body … with scales. Her legs are the legs of a wolf.

She also has a snake tail. And in the other hand she holds a sting with poison.

One gets the feeling that this is a direct hint of the artist at the duplicity and hypocrisy of his main favorite, Countess d’Etamp.

She was very beautiful. But in the ability to weave intrigue she had no equal.

The countess held the king in power for the last 16 years of his life. He blindly followed her advice. The courtiers went first to her in order to achieve a new position. Therefore, in all the most important posts were people loyal to her.

Agnolo Bronzino. Allegory with Venus and Cupid. Fragment.
Agnolo Bronzino. Allegory with Venus and Cupid. Fragment. 1545. National Gallery of London.

Loss of time and inner emptiness

In the background of the picture we see the God of time, Chronos.

He is clearly not accidental. For those who are passionate, time is of the essence; they forget about everything in the world.

The artist hints if this is too wasteful for the ruler of an entire country? So much needs to be done, but spends all the time on voluptuousness.

I can assume that a female mask next to Chronos can personify the inner emptiness. Her eye sockets are empty. There is nothing under the mask either.

People become empty, being dominated by carnal passions. There is nothing else left in their heads. Neither feats, nor great accomplishments.

Bronzino. Allegory with Venus and Cupid. Fragment. 1545. National Gallery of London
Bronzino. Allegory with Venus and Cupid. Fragment. 1545. National Gallery of London.

Francis I’s reaction to the present

Francis I received the painting just a year before his death. It was not a prophecy. It was not a warning. It was a debriefing of his life.

Was Francis I offended by this message?

Judging by the information of contemporaries, he was not vindictive and touchy. More like the extrovert joker.

In addition, he was a connoisseur of art. No wonder he patronized Leonardo da Vinci. It was thanks to him that France acquired the main portrait of all time, Mona Lisa.

And such a fan of art would hardly be offended by the painting. Even if it exposes his vices. Perhaps he only grinned bitterly.

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