Domenico di Pace Beccafumi (1484 – 1551)
Italian, Siena, about 1519
‘I love this glimpse into the private world of the 16th Century; what a privilege, and how strange to see what was hanging over the marital bed! Strange too because my first reaction was… ‘Man or woman?’ but the ambiguity melts away the more you look at the feminine beauty of the nymph and her naughty companion. The colours are vibrant and engaging, dominated by the rhubarb and custard-coloured drape over Venus and complimented by the blue sky and clouds. It is a work that should not be judged on first impressions, as it has many possible stories to tell…’
Sue Gilligan (The Institute of Advanced Studies, Deputy Director and Manager)
This arresting painting of a reclining Venus in an imaginary landscape presents a disconcerting image of a beautiful goddess with a strangely masculine body. She wears a revealing dress of hot pink and bright yellow discordant colours. As she dips her fingers sensuously into the water Cupid peeps over her shoulder with his toy windmill, a symbol of restlessness and folly.
The panel formed part of the bedchamber furnishings for Francesco di Camillo Petrucci and his wife Caterina Piccolomini in the Palazzo Petrucci in Siena. The Petrucci and Piccolomini were leading families in Siena and the marriage would have cemented an important alliance. The furnishings also included four vertical panels with themes of virtuous heroines from antiquity. Two of these, Tanaquil and Marcia, are in the National Gallery in London.
Domenico was born the son of a peasant Giacomo di Pace on an estate near Siena. He showed early talent and was adopted by the owner of the estate Lorenzo Beccafumi. In the 1520s he became official painter to the Sienese Republic and decorated many of the churches.
Domenico’s Mannerist style, creating instability and tension, was a reaction to the balance and harmony of composition and colour of the High Renaissance. The Reclining Nymph is a good example of this style with its elongated, androgynous body, jarring colours and trompe l’oeil frame.
Oil on wood
Purchased 1962 (No. 62.6)