Study of Venus at Rest
Pen and brown ink over black chalk, brush and brown ink, white chalk, on blue paper
Inv. No. 4060
27.8 × 37.8 cm
This study was carried out in preparation for a large painting, showing a sleeping Venus and putti at play (now in the Musée Condé, Chantilly) and executed by Annibale Carracci in 1602 for the decoration of the private apartments of Cardinal Odoardo Farnese (1573–1626). Probably inspired by Titian paintings in his own collection, the cardinal gave instructions not only for the Venus but also for a decorative scheme encompassing a large number of erotic mythological scenes. In the preceding years Carracci had created the great ceiling fresco of the »Galleria Farnese« in the Palazzo Farnese in Rome for the same patron, a modernizing reinterpretation of the classical style of Raphael’s era which exerted a significant influence on the art of the seventeenth century.
On the large sheet of blue paper, Carracci began by sketching the outlines of the sleeping Venus in black chalk, then modelling her voluptuous body by rubbing the black and white chalk. Finally, he enclosed the figure with a somewhat hesitant ink outline which does not aim for the undulating, decorative elegance of a Mannerist contour but seems to support the three-dimensional mass of the body. The effect of sensuous physicality thus achieved is intensified by the position of the sleeping Venus’s arm (here Carracci was following the example of a famous sculpture of classical antiquity, the Sleeping Ariadne in the Vatican collection). The left arm laid across the top of the head exposes the body, while the right arm is directed back towards the breast. This version may have taken the desired eroticism too far, for in the two additional pen studies, to the upper right and left, Carracci tried out alternative poses. It is worth noting the two signatures in his own hand, which indicate the importance he attached to his drawings, and perhaps even reflect the art dealers’ practice of cutting up such sheets of studies and selling the drawings individually.