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Photo credit: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Cornell University

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Title: Mars and Venus
Date: 1539
Medium: Engraving on laid paper
Dimensions: Image/Sheet: 11 1/8 × 7 15/16 inches (28.3 × 20.2 cm)
Credit Line: Acquired through the Ernest I. White, Class of 1893, Endowment Fund
Object Number: 60.077
Label Text: The extramarital affair between Venus, the Roman deity of love and sex, and Mars, deity of war, served as inspiration for sixteenth-century artists who used the narrative for both romantic and erotic scenes. Scultori’s engraving crystallizes many dramatic elements of the Venus-Mars relationship into a cohesive work: a nude Venus and armor-clad Mars embrace on a luxurious canopied bed as Cupid, here characterized as Venus’s offspring, suckles at his mother’s breast. While Scultori’s print does present a full, unobscured glimpse at a female nude, it skirts being inappropriate by deliberately limiting the protagonists’ sexual contact. Scultori’s contemporary Marcantonio Raimondi was imprisoned for his explicit takes on Greco-Roman love stories, which in part showed Mars and Venus in flagrante delicto as Cupid sleeps in a nearby cradle, so it is conceivable that Scultori wanted to avoid a similar fate. Renaissance audiences would have been familiar with the late medieval type of the Virgo Lactan—depictions of the Virgin Mary breastfeeding baby Jesus—so Scultori’s print may be an attempt to downplay the erotic aspects of Venus’s story in favor of her motherhood. (“Undressed: The Nude in Context, 1500-1750,” text by Brittany R. R. Rubin and presented at the Johnson Museum February 9-June 16, 2019)

NOTE: This electronic record is compiled from historic documentation which may not reflect the Johnson Museum's complete or current knowledge of the object. Review and refinement of such records is ongoing.