Padua 1605-Venice 1687
Venus surrounded by cherubs
oil on canvas, 118,5×153,5 cm
In this work by Pietro Liberi, the fusion between the Venetian and the Central Italian manners culminates in a seductive union. On the one hand, the incarnation of the scantily dressed woman in the foreground, her explicit sensuality, are reminiscent of masterpieces by Tiziano or Veronese, on the other hand, the pose of the body laying amongst massive architectures seems to echo more Michelangelesque ideas. Even the herculean cherubs that surround her, testing the firmness of her flesh, evoke the variety of the experiences of the artist, who studied in Rome and in Florence, before permanently taking up residence in the city where he became famous, Venice.
Fabrizio Magani, author of a study of this work, identifies the subject as a Venus surrounded by cherubs, noting the painting’s predominant profane tone, a familiar choice for its artist. Nonetheless, it is still worth noting that, along with this interpretation, there is also a symbology that hints, at least tangentially, to an Allegory of Charity. This subject, to which Liberi admittedly confers a particularly sensual and uninhibited connotation, is validated by the presence in the painting of the heart and the flame. These two iconographic elements follow the precepts of Cesare Ripa, who suggests in his 1603 Iconologia that the representation of Charity “holds in her right hand a flaming heart, and embraces a child with her left hand”.
Another element confirming this interpretation is the other version the painter made of this work, rightly identified as this subject by Ruggeri (U. Ruggeri, Pietro e Marco Liberi. Pittori nella Venezia del Seicento, Rimini, 1996, cat. P80, pp. 150-151). Unlike our painting, the woman, depicted amongst similar architectures and in almost the same position, turns her back to the viewers, while the same number of cherubs surround her.
Magani dates the work around the sixth decade of the seventeenth century, “in the highest moment” of the Paduan artist’s activity.