Raffaello Vanni

Venus Lamenting the Dead Adonis

Raffaello Vanni
( Sienne, 1595 - Sienne, 1673 )

Oil on canvas 132.7x93.3 cm

According to Marco Ciampolini (written communication, September 18th 2007) “this canvas may be identifiable as the painting sold for 60 scudi, together with an untraced Hercules, by Count Ugurgieri to Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici on June 27 1665. The reference is from a letter in the Florence State Archives (Mediceo del Principato, 5545, no. 418) published by Miriam Fileti Mazza (Archivio del collezionismo mediceo. Il cardinal Leopoldo, vol. IV, Rapporti con il mercato di Siena, Pisa, Firenze, Genova, Milano, Napoli e altri centri minori, Milan and Naples 2000, pp. 31-32)”.

La Pittura Eloquente, Maison d’Art, Monte-Carlo, 16 June – 16 July 2010, n.10.

F. Baldassari in La Pittura Eloquente, exh. cat., Maison d’Art, Monte-Carlo 2010, n.10, pp. 59 - 62, illus. p. 61; M. Ciampolini, ed., I pittori senesi del Seicento, forthcoming.

This painting is a depiction of the mythological episode narrated by Ovid in his Metamorphoses (X: 705-739) in which Venus laments her beloved but now lifeless Adonis. The handsome youth Adonis had ignored the goddess’ warnings and gone out to hunt, wounding a boar with a javelin, and receiving a mortal wound from the enraged wild beast. Hearing the moans of her loved one, Venus runs to him but is helpless in the face of death.

The canvas illustrates the moment in which the goddess has just sensed the depth of the tragedy and falls into despair; her sorrow is also expressed by a group of assisting cherubs.
Notwithstanding the episode’s essentially dramatic content, the painter does not fail to include various elements that relate to the fable in general, with details such as the Adonis’ hunting dogs in the left foreground, guarded by Cupid, and Venus’ golden throne and pair of swans.
Stylistic analysis reveals the author of this unpublished canvas as the Sienese painter Raffaello Vanni, and a probable date in the early 1640s, when the artist was closest to the classicising taste of Giovan Francesco Romanelli.

The graceful faces of the putti – some of whom, like the one on the cloud at upper right, derive from Guido Reni – and the sparkling colours, especially in the range of blues (Venus’ robe is an outstanding example) but also in the reds and ochres, recur in similar passages in works dated by scholars to the early 1640s.

This canvas closely resembles the two altarpieces of the Birth of the Virgin and Saint Helen with the True Cross Vanni painted for the Santacroce family in the church of Santa Maria in Publicolis, Rome, which are documented to 1644. Compare, for example, the faces of Venus and Helen, who share the same sharp profile, and the grimace of pain, as well as the poses of the soft, shapely angels.

Francesca Baldassari