Frans Wouters - Venus, Adonis and Cupid

Frans Wouters - Venus, Adonis and Cupid


Large 17th century Flemish oil on copper painting depicting Venus and Adonis


The myth of Venus and Adonis was first told in Ovid's Metamorphosis: Book X. This is the most widely accepted version of the myth. Adonis was a handsome young man, more beautiful than even the Gods, although his creation was from an incestuous union. Venus was playing with her son Cupid in the woods and was punctured in the chest by one of his arrows. The wound was deeper than she thought, and before it healed she witnessed Adonis. She immediately fell passionately in love with him and forgot about her other lovers and her life on Olympus. She followed him and helped him with his hunting, dressing like Diana. She warned him that "bravery is unsafe when faced with the brave. Do not be foolish, beware of endangering me, and do not provoke the creatures nature has armed, lest your glory is to my great cost." When Venus left by her swans to the skies, Adonis provoked a wild boar and was killed. She fled to his aid but was too late so she turned his blood into a flower, which would bloom each year to remind her of her grief and their love. 


The present painting depicting Venus, Adonis and Cupid illustrates Ovid's myth. Frans Wouters captures the scene when the lovers first meet. The scene focuses on the emotional intensity, capturing the loving and intense eye contact. The sensuality of the encounter is conveyed through the three dimensionality of the volumes and the life-like flesh tones. In the distance, one can see the silhouette of a large town, possibly Antwerp. Our painting has been inspected first-hand by Dr. Klaus Ertz, who has confirmed the attribution and a copy of his expertise accompanies the painting. He dates the work to the 1640s and highlights that in our painting Wouters painted both the figures and the landscape. It was a rather common practise in Flanders at the time for painters to focus on a specific niche and to collaborate, one painter would paint the landscape and another the figures. Wouters was one of the rare few who was equally skilled at both. 


Frans Wouters (1612–1659) was a Flemish Baroque painter who translated the monumental Baroque style of Peter Paul Rubens into the small context of cabinet paintings. He was a court painter to the Roman Emperor and the Prince of Wales and was active as an ambassador and art dealer. Frans Wouters was born in Lier, present-day Belgium. He was first apprenticed to Pieter van Avont in Antwerp in 1629 but broke his contract to move to the workshop of Rubens in 1634. He became a master in the Guild of St. Luke the following year. He participated, under the direction of Rubens, in the decoration of the city of Antwerp on the occasion of the Joyous Entry of the Cardinal-Infante Ferdinand of Austria in 1635. He spent the 1630s as court painter to Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II. He was sent as an ambassador of Ferdinand II to England in 1637. The following year, he became the painter of the Prince of Wales, the future Charles II of England. In England, Wouters would certainly have had the opportunity to meet his compatriot Anthony van Dyck, who was at that time the court painter of Charles I of England. Even after his return to Antwerp in 1641 he remained in contact with Charles II during the period of the English Civil War and the Commonwealth. He was described in 1658 as Charles’s 'ayuda de cámera' (chamberlain). In Antwerp he collaborated again with his former master Pieter van Avont mainly adding landscapes to van Avont's compositions. He became involved in the art market. In this capacity he assisted in the valuation of the paintings in Rubens' estate. His marriage to Maria Doncker, daughter of the treasurer of Antwerp, in 1644 provided him with a substantial fortune. In 1648, he became dean of the Antwerp Guild of St. Luke. He was involved in the sale of the art collection of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham by the English Parliamentary Commissioners in 1648. At around this time Wouters began to work for Archduke Leopold Wilhelm of Austria, the then Governor of the Southern Netherlands and an avid art patron and collector. Wouters' style and subject matter reflect the taste of his international aristocratic clients who preferred small paintings, decorative landscapes and mythological stories. His style bore initially a resemblance to the late Mannerism of Joos de Momper and was later influenced by Rubens and in particular Rubens' landscape paintings. After entering the service of Archduke Leopold William, Wouters' work demonstrated the increased influence of Anthony van Dyck and the human figures in his paintings became elongated and emotionally expressive. He painted biblical scenes and mythological landscapes in this style. 


The oil on copper measures ca. 54,7 by 71,5cms and with the frame ca. 84 by 101cms.


Provenance: private collection Spain