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Lucas Cranach the Elder - Venus and Cupid as Honey Thieve

by Alexandra Tuschka

The long-limbed Venus enters the picture naked - only she obviously did not want to do without the protruding hat. She skillfully sets her silhouette in scene by holding one arm on a branch and lifting her leg gracefully over another, which cheekily blocks her way. With her saucy gaze directed at the viewer, the sitter reminds us of the dangers of woman's seductions. Cupid, who has just stolen a honeycomb, on the other hand, has the angry bees on his neck. These had nested in the hollow trunk of the apple tree.

Cupid cries and seems to seek the attention of his mother. On the left, a few wild animals emerge from the dense forest and in the right background there is a view of an enchanting mountain landscape. A house and some trees accentuate this area of the picture. The incident shown here goes back to the poem "Keriokleptes" - the honey thief by Theokritos. Here Cupid steals into the beehive, but is attacked by them. He complains to his mother how such small creatures could cause him such great pain and is admonished by her that he, as a small creature also inflicts great pain with his arrows. The Latin inscription at the upper, left edge of the picture paraphrases a Latin translation of the text.

However, there is another layer of meaning to the painting - at the time it was painted, syphilis and other venereal diseases were spreading in Europe. Cranach, in combination with the seductive Venus also warns against the rash sexual act.

Lucas Cranach the Elder - Venus and Cupid as Honey Thieve

Oil on wood, c. 1529, 81.3 x 54.6 cm, National Gallery in London


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