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Venus and Adonis
17th Century
Battistello CARACCIOLO
Venus and Adonis
[Venere e Adone]
c 1630
Oil on canvas
204 x 145 cm  [HxW]
Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, Napoli

This is one of Battistello Caracciolo’s very few paintings of a profane subject. Having trained with the Mannerist Belisario Corenzio, he very soon (as early as 1606–07) took up the new naturalist language of Caravaggio and then, after 1615–18, moved on towards the classicism of the Carraccis and Lanfranco. The painting, which is close to the frescoes in the chapel of the Assunta in the Certosa di San Martino, can be dated to around 1631, the period in which the artist had a preference for dilated forms and more dramatic and dynamic compositions. Venus is seen detaining her beloved Adonis, the offspring of the incestuous relationship between King Cinyras and his daughter. The legend, which originated in Asia and which was often taken up by Greek and Latin poets, such as Ovid in his Metamorphoses , relates that due to the love of Venus and Persephone, Adonis, who died during a boar hunt, was destined by Zeus to spend part of the year in the underworld and part on Earth. A reference to his forced return to the underworld can be seen in the gesture of the right hand of the hunter surrounded by his dogs. This profane iconography, which was retrieved by restoration work after 1983, was falsified, probably in the second half of the 19th century, when the painting was given a new, ecclesiastical destination, as it was moved from a private collection to the church of Santi Marcellino e Festo in Naples. On that occasion, the figure of Venus was covered by a fawn, while Cupid was transformed into an angel holding the dove and palm of martyrdom rather than the arrow. At this point, the painting was identified as St Vito or St Julian the Fowler.

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