Florence, 1784 – 1855
Venus Crossing the Sea on a Shell
Oil on wood panel, 13 x 16 1/8 in (33 x 41 cm)
This unpublished painting is exquisite in both technique and dimensions, and provides a significant addition to the oeuvre of Giuseppe Bezzuoli, the leading Romantic painter in Florence during the first half of the nineteenth century. Venus, born of the sea, is depicted lying in an ample scallop shell, with a red blanket and white sheet, part of which acts as a sail, as she skims across the waves not far from the shore. A playful Cupid uses a pink ribbon to restrain a pair of emblematic doves, the white one in flight, the grey one perched with its wings spread on the edge of the magnificent shell.
Venus is stretched out in a provocative pose which precisely reflects that of the ancient marble Borghese Hermaphrodite (Paris, Musée du Louvre), a version of the Hellenistic composition much celebrated since its discovery in Rome in 1617/1618. Even though the statue left the Borghese collection for Paris in 1808 before Bezzuoli’s first Roman sojourn, he would have been aware of it, and indeed he worked in the Palazzo Borghese in Florence.
Fernando Mazzocca has confirmed the attribution to Bezzuoli, dating the picture to the 1830s or 1840s by comparison with other similarly erotically-themed pictures produced in the period, such as Strength Conquered by Love and Eve Tempted by the Serpent (both illustrated in Gian Lorenzo Mellini, “Bezzuoli pittore emblematico” and “Nuove considerazioni su Bezzuoli”, in Notti romane e altre congiunture pittoriche tra Sette e Ottocento, Florence, 1992, pp. 357-371, figs. 182-190).