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Musée d’Orsay, Paris
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In this large painting measuring approximately 9'10" (3m) high, and 7'2" (2.2m) wide, titled la naissance de Venus c1879, The birth of Venus, Venus the goddess of love can be seen standing upon an oyster shell having emerged from the sea as a fully mature woman.
Although this piece is titled the Birth of Venus it is not a depiction of the actual birth of Venus but is in fact a depiction of Venus being transported across the water on an oyster shell ( representative of the Vulva ). She is depicted arriving at the shore line as the water she is upon appears not to be that deep. Venus is surrounded by her subjects who are thigh deep in the water and a chorus of cherubs are circling in the sky behind her celebrating her arrival. She has a calm innocent, seductive look about her in what could be describe as an erotic piece as although her pose suggests she is calm she has a strong sexual presence which he emits from the piece. Venus was said to be the embodiment of sex, beauty, enticement, seduction and persuasive female charm and all these traits a masterfully depicted in this representation by Bouguereau.
Within the piece Venus is being admired by the nymphs and Centaurs who have gathered around her to admire her beauty and celebrate her arrival. All eyes are upon her except for Psyché to the front and centre of the piece who appears more interested in the dolphin which is one of two dolphins, in the shallows, upon which she is leaning rather than paying any attention to the arrival of Venus. However the Cupid who is sitting upon the dolphin is staring up admiringly at Venus meeting her gaze while she provocatively teases her hair with her hands.
There are three nymphs present in the piece all of which are looking toward Venus. The beautiful young nymph immediately behind the cherub on the dolphin is leaning into a Centaur with her hands resting on his arm. She is staring up at Venus with a longing equally alluring and desiring look in her eyes obviously captivated by, and recognising the out standing beauty of Venus the goddess before her, her body and breasts being almost proportional to that of Venus and yet in someway without the sexual power that Venus emits.
With her and the Centaur there is another nymph but she appears to be cautious perhaps even threatened some what and is hiding behind the Centaur as if seeking comfort as she gazes upon Venus.
Centaurs use conch shells to trumpet her arrival while from behind an older bearded centaur gazes at her while lovingly holding his nymph in his arms, gently supporting her at the elbow with his left arm while holding her hand with his right.
Behind them thirteen Cherubs circle in the sky with Cupid and Psyché being present again amoung them. His out stretched arms holding the bow and two golden arrows while Psyché huddles into him lovingly while looking down on the gathering below.
In the cloud to the left there appears to be an almost human like form with a head, shoulder, partial back, arm and fist being visible. Perhaps it is the sillhouette of the artist himself as you can almost imagine a paint brush held within the grip of the hand.
This painting is a brilliant example of William Bouguereau's knowledge, understanding and skill when portraying the human body. His use of line and colour produce an almost photo like depiction of his subjects portraying not only their character but their physical presence also.
I have noticed through out my research of Bouguereau's work the similarity and use of certain subjects in some of his paintings. In this piece dated 1879 he has portrayed Venus in an almost identical pose to that of a nymph standing to the left of another large piece titled Nymphaem (1878) who is also playing with her hair.