(Castello di Cigoli 1559 - 1613 Rome)

Venus and Adonis

Oil on copper
11 x 15 inches (28.5 x 39.5 cm)


Private collection, Florence
With Giovanni Pratesi, Florence, from whom acquired in 2001 by:
Robert M. Edsel, Dallas, Texas (2001-2015)
Private Collection, New York (2015-2018)


“Caravaggio e il genio di Roma: 1592-1623,” Rome, Palazzo Venezia, May 10 - July 31, 2001.
Dallas, Texas, Meadows Museum, Southern Methodist University, On loan, 15 February – 21 March 2005.
“From the Private Collections of Texas”, Fort Worth, Kimbell Art Museum, November 22, 2009 - March 21, 2010.
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, On Loan, 2015-2017.


Mina Gregori, “I pittori fiorentini tra Venezia, Parma e Roma,” in Storia delle arti in Toscana: Il Seicento, ed. Mina Gregori (Florence 2001), pp.  12-13.

Roberto Contini, in Caravaggio e il genio di Roma: 1592-1623, ed. Claudio Strinati and Rossella Vodret, exhibition catalogue (Rome and Milan 2001), p. 110, no. 63.

Shelley C. Matthews, “Venus and Adonis”: A recently discovered painting by Ludovico Cardi Cigoli, unpub. M.A. thesis, Texas Christian University (Fort Worth  2004), passim.

The Robert M. Edsel Collection, New York, 2002, unpaginated.

The Robert M. Edsel Collection, Dallas, 2005, p. 17-20.

Francesca Baldassari, La Pittura del Seicento a Firenze (Turin 2009), p. 182.

Sandro Bellesi, Catalogo dei Pittori Fiorentini del '600 e '700 (Florence 2009),  vol. I, p. 99.

C. D. Dickerson III in, From the Private Collections of Texas: European Art, Ancient to Modern, ed. Richard R. Brettell and C.D. Dickerson
III,  exh. cat. (Fort Worth, 2009-10), pp. 130-33, no. 14, reproduced.

Jasmin Mersmann, Lodovico Cigoli: Formen Der Wahrheit Um 1600 (Berlin and Boston), 2016, p. 397-8, fig. 161.

When this stunning depiction of Venus and Adonis was first publicly exhibited in 2001, it was hailed by Roberto Contini as “without question one of the most important recent discoveries in 17th-century Florentine painting.”[1] The author of the painting, Lodovico Cigoli, is one of the most important Florentine artists of the early Seicento. Cigoli was a key figure during a transformative moment in Italian painting, reacting against the artificiality of Mannerism and inaugurating a new movement of naturalistic painting that was in tune with the tenets of Counter-Reformation thinking. His lyrical style, described by his nephew and biographer Giovanni Battista Cardi as “his beautiful and graceful manner,” greatly influenced the next generations of painters and set the course for the development of Florentine Baroque painting.[2]

Cigoli began his career as an apprentice in the workshop of Alessandro Allori, with whom he collaborated on ephemeral decorations for the funeral of Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1574 and the decoration of the Uffizi in 1581. He entered the Accademia del Disegno in 1578 and soon thereafter established a successful independent workshop in Florence, counting Grand Duke Ferdinand I de’ Medici as one of his principal patrons. In 1604 Cigoli was called to Rome to complete an altarpiece of St. Peter Healing the Cripple (now lost) for Saint Peter’s Basilica. He remained in Rome for the remainder of his life, returning to Florence only intermittently. There he completed a number of major commissions and befriended Caravaggio and the Carracci, artists who were similarly bringing about sweeping change in painting across the Italian peninsula.

The subject of this painting derives from Book X of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which recounts the tale of the goddess Venus and the hunter Adonis. Venus warned her mortal lover not to attack the wild beasts that are “armed by nature,” but he failed to heed her counsel.[3] While on a hunt, Adonis happened upon a boar, which he struck with his spear. The boar survived the attack and battled back, delivering a fatal blow to Adonis with its tusk. Venus, hearing Adonis’s dying moans, went to her lover and watched over him as he took his final breaths. Cigoli here depicts the moment after Venus’s arrival, as she lifts Adonis’s garment to reveal his gaping wound. The intricate composition focuses on the protagonists, while incorporating narrative details, such as the boar scurrying away at the left and Adonis’s exhausted hunting dogs lapping up water, seemingly unaware of what has transpired, at the right.

Cigoli’s depiction of this mythological episode reveals the painter’s close familiarity with Ovid’s text. Ovid tells us that Venus flew to Adonis in her chariot, which was pulled by white swans, and that upon seeing him she tore her garment in anguish. The swans and chariot, occupied by a distraught cupid bending his bow (a detail that references Ovid’s brief mention of Venus and Adonis in his Amores), appear in the lower left. Venus is here shown nude, with parts of her ripped garment just visible beneath and behind her. Ovid furthermore reports that in her grief, Venus exclaimed “Your blood, Adonis, will become a flower perennial,” and that soon after a blood-red flower, an Anemone, sprung up from the earth.[4] This transformation, one of the many described in Ovid’s text, is captured in this work by the emergence of a single bloom from the pool of blood at Adonis’s feet in the lower right. Cigoli’s translation of Ovid’s text into paint undoubtedly reflects the humanist education he received in his youth, prior to his training as an artist, and justifies the reputation he earned in his lifetime as a distinguished intellectual.

A drawing by Cigoli in the Uffizi is clearly preparatory to our Venus and Adonis and of nearly identical dimensions.[5]  Until the emergence of the present painting its subject had only been conjectured as the signifying elements of the story are absent from the drawing, which looks as if it were begun almost as a studio exercise, with models posed on boxes, a common practice of the day.  There are several salient differences between the drawing and the finished painting. While in the drawing the female figure grasps at the male’s cloak, in the painting Venus’s arm has been lowered and she now points both at the wound and the red flower, focusing the viewer’s attention on the cause of Adonis’s death and the product of his metamorphosis. Additionally, in the painting Venus faces out towards the viewer, rather than appearing in profile as in the drawing, which increases the legibility and effect of her pained expression. Venus’s armband and the diaphanous veil that trails down her back are further additions that heighten the precious quality of the painting.

Lodovico Cardi, called Il Cigoli,  Venus and Adonis , Uffizi.
Lodovico Cardi, called Il Cigoli,  Flight into Egypt , Musée Fabre, Montpellier

Our Venus and Adonis likely dates from Cigoli’s Roman period.[6] Before his departure from Florence, Cigoli had primarily been a painter of religious works. It was only after he arrived in Rome that he began to explore mythological subjects, completing a series of frescoes on the theme of  Cupid and Psyche in the loggia of Cardinal Scipione Borghese’s villa, today the Palazzo Pallavicini Rospigliosi.[7] This dating is also reinforced by the drawing, which has long been considered a late work by Cigoli.[8] A further anchor for the dating is Cigoli’s Flight into Egypt in the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, which was completed after 1607.[9] The Venus and Adonis and the Flight into Egypt are among the few works by the artist on a copper support. This lends the paint a luminous quality, here most visible in the bright sky and Venus’s nude body. Both works are executed in a closely similar style, particularly in the treatment of the trees and the landscape, which may reflect the influence of Flemish painters active in Italy, like Paul Brill, that Cigoli would have encountered in Rome.[10]

C. D. Dickerson has suggested that the fine “Palatina” frame is likely original. He also associated our painting with a Venus and Adonis by Cigoli sold in an Amsterdam auction in 1706.[11] However, the figures in that painting were described as life-size, which suggests that the artist may have treated the subject on a grand scale in addition to painting this intimate jewel-like cabinet picture.

[1] Contini, p. 110: “senza paragone la novità più rilevante degli ultimi anni in ordine alla pittura seicentesca fiorentina.”

[2] Giovanni Battista Cardi, Vita del Cigoli (1628), ed. Guido Battelli and Kurt H. Busse, San Miniato, 1913, p. 16. “la bella e leggiadra maniera.”

[3] Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Brookes More, Boston, 1922.

[4] Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Brookes More, Boston, 1922.

[5] Miles L. Chappell, Disegni di Lodovico Cigoli (1559-1613), exhibition catalogue, Florence, 1999, p. 192, no. 117 (Uffizi 839E; 287 x 402mm)

[6] Mina Gregori’s dating of 1597 was subsequently rejected by Roberto Contini and C. D. Dickerson.

[7] The frescoes are now detached and exhibited at the Museo Romano di Palazzo Braschi.

[8] Chappell, loc. cit.

[9] Franco Faranda, Ludovico Cardi detto il Cigoli, Rome, 1986, p. 172, no. 85a.

[10] C. D. Dickerson has alternatively proposed that Cigoli could have learned these techniques from Adrian Fiammingo, who is documented in Cigoli’s workshop in 1600.

[11] The painting was sold at Jan Pietersz. Zomer in Amsterdam on 18 May 1706. See: Gerard Hoet, Catalogus of Naamlyst van Schilderyen, met derzelver pryzen, zedert een langen reeks van jaaren zoo in Holland als op andere plaatzen in het openbaar verkogt, benevens een verzameling van lysten van verscheyden nog in wezen zynde cabinetten, The Hague, 1752-1770, vol. I, p. 94, no. 1. “Venus en Adonis (levens groote) van Lodovico Civoli, braef geschildert.”