The Venus Effect


This post is not inspired by Velasquez’s over analyzed mirror on the back wall of “Las Meninas” but by one from his somewhat lesser known painting from before 1651 called “The Rokeby Venus” after the mansion of the Brit who bought it in 1813.

That, as well as many more Venus Effect paintings by others, has the goddess of love looking into a mirror held by Cupid, her son. The mirror appears to be angled so she can look at herself, but as we see her face in the mirror, what she’d see would be us, the spectators as well as the artist.

I think these artists wanted to show the spectators being questioned by a goddess angry about their equating her idealized personification of love with a picture of real-world lust object. The paintings seem to be presenting a moral lesson against our scopophilic exercises attempting to rationalize our intentions.

My Venus “painting” has all the parts mentioned above, but arranged a little differently, more real world. Cupid is there with his mirror; with his strap-on wings and black out shades he is more flesh and blood little person than demigod putto. Venus is there too, not nude but dressed-to-kill, not in the least idealized.

But there’s more. In a traditional Venus Effect painting the spectator is condemned for his duplicity by Venus’s alluring female gaze. Here the disconnect between what the spectator sees in the painting and in the mirror in the painting persists, still duplicity is what we see.