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Benedetto Gennari (Cento 1633-Bologna 1715)

Venus and the Sleeping Adonis 1677-78

Oil on canvas | 226.1 x 163.7 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 407150

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The Bolognese artist Benedetto Gennari trained in the studio of his uncle, Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, known as Guercino. In 1672 Gennari travelled to Paris to seek the patronage of Louis XIV. He was favourably received and during his 16 months there is recorded as having painted 15 pictures. One of these, Diana and Endymion, was intended for the Duc de Richelieu, but was never delivered, and Gennari subsequently presented it to Charles II as an introductory gift, after arriving at court in September 1674.

During his 16 years in England, Gennari worked for both Charles II and James II, receiving a yearly stipend of £500. He kept a chronological list of his prodigious output, including 102 paintings during the reign of Charles II, 35 during the reign of James II, and 30 for James II in exile, whom he joined at Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1689. His altarpieces included a large Annunciation for the new Catholic chapel at Whitehall (fig. 4), and those for the private chapels at St James's Palace, Windsor Castle and Somerset House. He also painted numerous portraits, including Queen Catherine 'seated on the shore, in a melancholy attitude, sighing over [her] departure from Lisbon', and Louise de Kéroualle with her son in the guise of Cupid.

This canvas comes from a set of four large-scale mythological scenes commissioned by Charles II, which were hung in the King's Dining Room at Windsor Castle 'with three other pictures, one by Tintoretto, the other two, they say, by Titian'. All represent love stories from Ovid's Metamorphoses. In Venus and the Sleeping Adonis, the goddeess and her mortal lover reclining together; Adonis is asleep, with Venus's right arm clasping his shoulder. In the lower right foreground a putti holds one of Adonis's hunting hounds on a leash and raises a finger to his lips, indicating silence to Venus. At the far left are Venus's doves and above the lovers are two putti, one fanning Adonis, the other tying a large drapery to a tree. The story of how the goddess Venus fell in love with the mortal Adonis is a popular one in painting. Venus is frequently shown embracing Adonis and attempting to restrain him from going to the hunt, where he met his death.

Gennari's mytholgoicla paintings advertised both the patron's and the artist's knowledge of classical literature, but they also provided the opportunity to depict four beautiful, semi-nude female protagonists in a variety of poses. 
 
Signed bottom right: GENNARI.

Text adapted from Charles II: Art and Power, London, 2017.