An Allegory with Venus and Cupid

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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This is one of Bronzino’s most complex and enigmatic paintings. It contains a tangle of moral messages, presented in a sexually explicit image. Venus, goddess of love, steals an arrow from her son Cupid’s quiver as she kisses him on the lips. Cupid fondles Venus‘ breast, his bare buttocks provocatively thrust out as he returns her kiss and attempts to steal her crown.

The masks at Venus’ feet suggest that she and Cupid exploit lust to mask deception. The howling figure on the left may be Jealousy; the boy scattering roses and stepping on a thorn could be Folly or Pleasure; the hybrid creature with the face of a girl, Fraud or Deceit. Winged Father Time battles with mask-like Oblivion to either reveal or conceal the scene.

The picture was probably sent to King Francis I of France as a gift from Cosimo I de' Medici, ruler of Florence, who employed Bronzino as a court painter.

The National Gallery, London



An Allegory with Venus and Cupid


about 1545


Oil on wood


H 146.1 x W 116.2 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bought, 1860

Work type



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