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Venus and Cupid Carried by Dolphins

The Renaissance fascination with Venus is evidenced by the eight depictions of the goddess for the stufetta (or small heated washroom) of Cardinal Bibbiena in the Vatican Palace. Designed by Raphael, the frescoes reflected the early sixteenth-century patronage of high church officials, who frequently commissioned paintings of female nudes for their private chambers. Such sensual imagery was justified by its classical subject matter. Another print by Marco Dente after this series is in the Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art collection (Eskenazi Museum of Art 98.272).

Dente’s print (after Raphael’s original drawing) is our only record of this now-lost fresco. Rather than illustrating a specific myth, the image offers a curious blend of classical marine motifs found in Roman friezes, sarcophagi, mosaics, and gems. The lion-faced “dolphin” and the view of the bay of Naples in the background, however, appear to be totally new inventions.

Marco Dente
Italian, ca. 1486–1527
after Raphael
Italian, 1483–1520
Venus and Cupid Carried by Dolphins
Engraving on paper
Image: 10 5/16 x 6 3/4 in. (h. 26.2 x w. 17.1 cm); plate: 10 3/8 x w. 6 7/8 in. (26.4 x 17.5 cm); sheet: 10 7/8 x 7 ½ in. (27.6 x 19.1 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Collection of Diether Thimme, 98.273