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Art / Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time

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Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time (also called An Allegory of Venus and Cupid and A Triumph of Venus) is an allegorical painting of about 1545 by the Florentine painter Agnolo Bronzino.

The painting has come to be known as Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time, and it is generally agreed that these are the principal figures (with "Folly" representing this or the personification of a similar concept). Cupid and Venus kiss in the foreground, while the putto Folly prepares to shower them with rose petals. The bald Time, at the top, looks on and holds a cloth. The meaning of the other three figures and the interactions between them all is much less certain. The painting displays the ambivalence, eroticism, and obscure imagery that are characteristic of the Mannerist period, and of Bronzino's master Pontormo.

It's thought that Cosimo I commissioned the work to be presented to King Francis I of France. It was intended to appeal to the erotic tastes of the court and Bronzino succeeded through his cold stylization of Venus as a precious alabaster statue, while the luxurious fabrics and the discarded masks, evoke the many carnivals of the time, creating an aristocratic environment, which was part of the work's allure.

Later critics like John Ruskin and Bernard Berenson specifically condemned the work for its artificiality and perversion. However, artists like Jacques-Louis David, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, and Giorgio de Chirico, were later inspired by "the master of the mannerist erotic scene," as Morris described Bronzino.

Fans of British television will also recognize the painting as the source of Monty Python's iconic Giant Foot of Stomping, debuting in the title sequence of Monty Python's Flying Circus and becoming an emblem of the troupe in the ensuing decades. The foot specifically belongs to Cupid and can be seen in the lower-left corner of the painting.

It is currently on display in the National Gallery, London.

This painting provides examples of:

  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Every character in the painting is an embodiment of a specific abstract concept. Although which concepts they each represent tends to depend on the scholar making the analysis.
    • Venus and Cupid are both gods of love (mainly passion and sexual desire).
    • The putto showering them with flowers is Folly.
    • Time is the elderly man holding up the drapery at the very top.
    • The figure opposite Time, and also grasping at the drapery, is usually called Oblivion because of the lack of substance to his form—eyeless sockets and mask-like head.
    • The old woman rending her hair in the far left has been called Jealousy — though some believe her to represent the ravaging effects of syphilis.
    • The creature at the right-hand side behind the innocent-looking putto, with a girl's face and a concealed sphinx-like body, her head twisted at an unnatural angle, extending a honeycomb with her left hand, and hiding behind her back a scorpion's barb at the end of her long serpentine tail, may represent Pleasure and Fraud.
  • Artistic License – Anatomy: The way Cupid's back bends is borderline painful to look at. Considering the Mannerist movement is known for depicting human posing in figura serpentinata, or "serpentine figure", to give it an otherworldly quality, this was likely deliberate.
  • Karmic STD: The elderly hag on the left side of the painting is commonly viewed as having all of the symptoms of syphilis, implying it to be a consequence of Venus and Cupid's sexual proclivities.
  • Love Goddess: Both Venus and Cupid are depicted in the forefront giving a flirtatious kiss in witness to the other characters. Considering the personification of folly is about to shower the two in rose petals, this is likely a bad move, especially considering both Venus and Cupid are infamous for their tendency to cause problems.
  • Multi-Character Title: The title lists four Anthropomorphic Personifications as characters: Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time.
  • Parental Incest: Cupid is one of Venus' many illegitimately born children and we can plainly see that the two of them are in the middle of sexual relations with one another. Incest isn't necessarily out of place among Classical gods, so seeing two gods of sexuality committing incest isn't out of place either.
  • Pink Is Erotic: It depicts Venus and Cupid having sex. The pair are accompanied by pink roses and a pink pillow.
  • Psychosexual Horror: While it seemingly appears as just an erotic painting, researchers in 2015 posited that the painting was used to depict syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease that was running rampant during their time period.
  • Putto: A toddler is meant to represent "Folly", or foolishness, giving his "blessing" to Cupid and Venus by showering them with petals.

Alternative Title(s): An Allegory Of Venus And Cupid, A Triumph Of Venus