Cupid Complaining to Venus

Cupid complaining to Venus (Venus and Cupid) is an oil painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1531). He was a leading painter of the German Renaissance who had trained in Flemish studios.

About 20 similar works by Cranach and his workshop were created, from the earliest dated artwork in Gustow Palace of 1527 to one in the Burrell Collection, Glasgow, from 1545, with the figures in different poses, which also differentiates in other details. The Metropolitan Museum of Art states that the number of different versions suggests that this was one of Cranach’s most famous and successful compositions.


This is the earliest of Cranach’s mythological paintings and the first in Germany, showing a naked Venus and Cupid. The interest in mythology, which often served as a pretext for nudity, could have been dictated by the humanistic fashion. But, on the other hand, Cranach’s strict sense of propriety made him accompany the illustration with a moralizing Latin couplet: “Reject Cupid’s lasciviousness with all your might, or else Venus will possess your blinded soul.”

The composition of the painting was influenced by Durer.

A version purchased by the National Gallery in London in 1963 is probably the earliest example. Even though it is updated, experts have dated it to 1526-1527. Moreover, the artwork is more elaborate than the others. It is more significant than most, except for the similarly sized Gustrow version and a larger, which is a life-sized version, at the Galleria Borghese in Rome, from 1531.

Cranach had painted Venus and Cupid together since at least his 1509 artwork, now located in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg.


The quality of this artwork is superior to that of many other renderings of the topic. The story of Cupid seeking the comfort of Venus after being stung by a bee while he was naively trying to steal a honeycomb belonged to Hellenistic tradition. It was the subject of one of Theocritus’s poems (Idyll, XIX), quoted in the upper right of the painting.

The date “1531” in the same position was added later, as were the initials with a dragon. The significance of the letters W.A.F., located on Venus’s hairnet, is unknown.


On the top edge, there is an inscription: ‘DUM PUER ALVEOLO FURATUR MELLA CU[P.I.D.O.]/FURANTI DIGITUM CUSPIDE FIXIT APIS/ SIC ETIAM NOBIS BREVIS ET PERITURA VOLUPTA[S]/QUA[M] PETIUS TRISTI MIXTA DOLORE NOC[E.T.]’ (While little Cupid stole from a beehive a honeycomb,/a bee stung the thief’s finger./Such is the short-lived lust we strive for:/ harmful and mixed with bitter sorrow.) – on the golden hairnet: ‘W.A.F.I.’ [Exhib. Cat. Rome 2010, 202, No. 22]


Cranach painted Venus draped in a transparent veil, looking directly at the viewer, whose sophisticated flowing lines are far from the style of ancient statues. Instead, a thin brush catches every wrinkle on the tree’s bark and every feather on the wings. The author decided to accompany his nude figure with a moral verse from Humanist Chelidonius, reminding us that the wolf is transient and accompanied by pain, as little Cupid understands when he tastes honeycombs with stinging bees.

The moral meaning of the image is that total abandonment to passionate love will bring nothing but pain and torment. The presence of the inscription relieved the Cardinal of any qualms he had regarding the subject’s morality.

Borghese Gallery in Rome,
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Author: Lucas Cranach the Elder

Lucas Cranach the Elder

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553) was a German Renaissance painter and printmaker in woodcut and engraving. He was a court painter to the Electors of Saxony for most of his career and is known for his portraits of German rulers and those of the pioneers of the Protestant Transformation, whose cause he embraced with enthusiasm. One of his closest friends was Martin Luther. Cranach painted religious subjects, to begin with, within the Catholic tradition and later attempted to discover other ways of conveying Lutheran religious concerns in art. He proceeded all through his career to paint nude subjects drawn from mythology and religion.

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