The Birth of Venus

Alexandre Cabanel  (French, Montpellier 1823–1889 Paris)

“Cabanel’s “Birth of Venus” (Musée d’Orsay, Paris) created a sensation at the Salon of 1863, which was known as the “Salon of the Venuses” because several paintings of the goddess were exhibited. This painting embodies the ideals of academic art in its careful modeling, polished surface finish, and mythological subject. Cabanel’s picture established his reputation, and it was purchased by Napoleon III for his personal collection. (A depiction of Napoleon III’s wife hangs at right.) In 1875, the American banker John Wolfe commissioned the present canvas, one of numerous replicas Cabanel made after the original.”

Credit: MET Museum of New York 

When I visited the MET museum, the painting of Alexandre Cabanel’s, “The Birth of Venus“, created in 1875, was eye-captivating when I saw it across the room. I was quickly drawn like a magnet. The scale of the woman was emphasized by painting a larger than life image of the woman floating on top of the ocean which was illuminated and life-like. The painting used vibrant colors and was saturated but did not use a lot of bright colors. The flesh tones were very realistic and natural as well as the proportions of her body.

The subject had movement. Her long locks of reddish, curly hair floated on top as well as beneath the surface of the rushing waves. The ocean created a 3-dimensional illusion because of the depth and use of shading. The artist captured the viewer’s attention by using scale and proportion which was emphasized in the piece of artwork. All elements were integrated and well organized. There were five Cupids flying above Venus which was going in different directions which added interest. The large canvas used to paint the image also implied the monumental image of the Goddess. The artist captured the viewer’s attention by using scale and proportion as well as color.

The perspective was a horizontal line which allowed your eyes to move across the whole scope of the painting. It was a very smooth surface and well blended which illustrated the artist’s technical skills in a highly finished piece of artwork.

I concentrated on the hair and waves which had such detail and rhythm. The artist emphasized the meaning of power, strength and beauty within the scale of the female body. She also seemed to be peaceful and relaxed. In contrast, the ocean was active, harsh and rough with crashing waves. The underlying message that I received was of a woman resting in peace in the midst of a storm.


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