D.42 Mars and Venus

D.42 Mars and Venus


Paris, Louvre, Inv. 1575.

Fig.D.42a bw
Fig.D.42b slightly cropped

Pen and black ink, point of brush and brown washes, heightened with thin white washes, also with highlights and details in almost opaque white applied with point of brush, over faint outlines in black chalk, on lavender-gray-brown washed paper (the brown washes have either faded and/or the color of the paper has darkened, consequently destroying the original tonal range of the chiaroscuro), 42.8 x 33.8; the lower corner cut and added; a horizontal crease in the middle of the drawing; laid down; the drawing is much rubbed in places, but in others not at all as in the area of Venus’s dress held up by putti.

PROVENANCE: E. Jabach (flourishes on verso of mount, Lugt 2959 and 2953 [J. Prioult] with no. “cent quartre vingt cinq”).


Vasari, 1550, 803 (Vasari-Ricci, IV, 250), fleeing from Borgo Sansepolcro on or shortly after Maundy Thursday, 14 April 1530, Rosso, “faccendo la via di Pesaro, arrivò a Vinegia, dove da M. Pietro Aretino trattenuto, gli disegnò una carta, che si stampa, quando Marte dorme con Venere, e gli Amori e le Grazie to spogliano, e gli traggono la corazza.”  Basically the same except for the phrase “che poi fu stampata” in Vasari, 1568, II, 209-210 (Vasari-Milanesi, V, 167).

Jabach Inventory, 1671, no. 185, as Rosso.

Morel d’Arleux Inventory, 1797-1827, I, no. 512, as Rosso.

Paris, Louvre, exh. cat., 1818, no. 295, as Rosso; also exh. cats. 1820, no. 345, 1841, no. 600, 1845, no. 600, as Rosso.

Reiset, 1866, 99, no. 307, as apparently Rosso’s drawing described by Vasari.

Milanesi, Vasari-Milanesi, V, 1881 (1906, 167, n. 1), mentions the drawing in the Louvre, as attributed to Rosso, in relation to Vasari’s description.

Herbet, III, 1899, 48, (1969, 136), as Rosso and related to the print by Caraglio.

Müntz, 1902, 158-159, as Rosso, with reservation.

Berenson, 1903, no. 2460, as School of Rosso, and a copy of his drawing made for Pietro Aretino.

Goldschmidt, 1911, 24-25, as a copy after Rosso’s drawing and perhaps a study for a chiaroscuro woodcut.

Pierre Marcel, “Les Dessins français. II. Le XVIe siècle,” (in Russian), Staryè Godÿ, II, 1911, Pl. opp. p. 4, as by Rosso.

Hans Kauffmann, “Der Manierismus in Holland and die Schule von Fontainebleau,” Jahrbuch der Preuszischen Kunstsammlungen, XXXIV, 1923, 194-195, Fig. 5, as Rosso’s, and referred to as a Fontainebleau work.

Kusenberg, 1931, 149, no. 13, as a careful copy by René Boyvin of the print attributed to Caraglio after Rosso’s Mars and Venus.

Berenson, 1938, no. 2460, as in 1903.

Levron, 1941, 40, 63, no. 31, 88, n. 97, repeats Kusenberg’s comments but says there is no print by Boyvin of this subject.

Adhémar, 1950 (1954, 312) repeats Kusenberg’s attribution to Boyvin.

Barocchi, 1950, 78, Fig. 46, as a copy after the engraving attributed to Caraglio.

Adhémar, Dessins, 1954, 105, by implication a copy after Rosso’s lost drawing.

Panofsky, 1958, 172, n. 72, by implication as a copy after Rosso.

Berenson, 1961, no. 2460, as in 1903 and 1938.

Carroll, 1964 (1976), I, Bk. I, 216-218, II, Bk. II, 322-338, D.34, Bk. III, Fig. 95, as by Rosso.

Between Renaissance and Baroque, 1965, 110, under no. 371, reports that Shearman thinks the drawing is by Rosso.

Carroll, 1966, 169-170, as Rosso.

Shearman, 1966, 164, Fig. 19, 166, 171, n. 38, 172, n. 43, as by Rosso, its draughtsmanship dependent on Etruscan engravings on bronze.

Shearman, 1967, 68, 69, Fig. 34, 153, 195, no. 34, as Rosso, and as showing the study of Etruscan bronze engraving and of Michelangelo’s teste divine; also as showing its subject mocked and as a tour de force demonstration of artistic capacity.

Rome à Paris, 1968, no. 244, as Rosso and apparently made in Venice for Aretino.

Freedberg, 1971, 131-132, 485, n. 35, as Rosso, and showing the precise style that Rosso would employ at Fontainebleau.

Thirion, 1971, 41-42, gives opinions of others.

Béguin, in EdF, 1972, 180, Fig., 181, no. 244, as Rosso.

Cox-Rearick, 1972, 35-37, no. 42, and Fig., as Rosso.

Béguin, “Maître Roux,” 1972, 103-104, as Rosso.

Miles, 1973, 32, as having a good claim to being the drawing that Rosso made in Venice.

Stein, Mer, “Mars of Vénus, En bryllupsallegori fra den danske renoessance,” Soe rtrvk af Kulturminder, 1973, 16, Fig.

Passavant, 1973, 117, as Rosso.

Carroll, 1975, 18, Fig. 1, 19, as Rosso.

Rosaline Bacou, in Collections de Louis XIV, Paris, 1977-1978, 9, 73, Fig., 74, no. 34, as Rosso, suggesting that it may have been among the drawings that Desneux de La Noue collected from the studios at Fontainebleau.

Barolsky, 1978, 44, 113-115, 214, as Rosso, its idea possibly invented by Aretino; he sees the drawing as mocking and spiked with Rosso’s caustic wit.

Walters, 1978, 160, states that in the figure of Mars “the classical nude has become a joke.”

Smith, 1978, 111, 113, n. 7, as Rosso and as influential on compositions by Bronzino; he also questions the idea of identifying Francis I with Mars.

Knecht, 1982, 261, with Fig., as Rosso’s, and an allegory of the peace of Cambrai.

Darragon, 1983, 28, 65, 70, n. 35, Fig. 7, as Rosso.

Lévêque, 1984, 102, 105, Fig., as Rosso.

Cox-Rearick, 1984, 170, n. 38, commented on the two zodiac signs above.

Marianne Grivel, in Ronsard, 1985, 74-75, no. 82, 128, Color Pl.

McGovern, 1985, 83-84, Fig. 21, as Rosso, and as influencing Ronsard’s poetry.

Béguin, in Délay, 1987, 76, 208, 209, Color Pl.

Bjurström, 1987, 21, 22, Fig., as made by Rosso for Aretino and sent to Francis I.

Carroll, 1987, 9, 10, 29, 30, 42, 170-175, no. 57, with Color Pl., as Rosso, 1530.

E. Hevers in Zauber der Medusa, 1987, 156, under no. I, 29, mentioned.

Mundy, 1988, 80, with Fig., as having the basic effect of a chiaroscuro woodcut, earliest examples of which are German, with greatest concentration of German art in Venice.

Franklin, 1988, 324, its technique derived from Perino del Vaga’s Martyrdom of the Ten Thousand, made in Florence c. 1522-23.

Béguin, 1989, 835, and Fig. 29, 837, 838.  Carroll, 1989, 18-19, Fig. 35 (wrongly numbered 36).

Waddington, 1991, 108-112, 124-125, with Fig., related the tone of the drawing to the bisexual image of Francis attributed to Niccolò Bellin da Modena.

Ciardi and Mugnaini, 1991, 23, 151, as Rosso.

Miller, 1992, 111, 112.

Scailliérez, 1992, 17, 27, 119, no. 49, with Fig., 128, under no. 55, thought the drawing probably preceded a painting attributed to Rosso later at Fontainebleau; she also noted D. Cordellier’s observation that the figure of Mars is similar to that of a dancing satyr on an ancient Greek or Roman relief from Isabella d’Este’s Studiolo in Mantua (Mantua, Museo del Palazzo Ducale).1

Wilson-Chevalier, 1993, 45, Fig. 12, 46-47, ns. 25, 30, identified the Zodiacal sign at the upper right as the Crab of Cancer, and not as the Scorpion of Scorpio, and interpreted the drawing with this in mind (on which see note below).

Franklin, 1994, 263-264, Color Pl. 207, as Rosso.

Ciardi, 1994, 53, 71.

Acton, in French Renaissance, 1994, 303, 307, ns. 13-14, under no. 73, as generally attributed to Rosso, the cupid parallel to the one in Giulio Romano’s Bath of Mars and Venus of 1528 in the Palazzo del Te, Mantua, which Rosso may have seen in 1529, the figure of Mars related to the nude carrying an old man in Raphael’s Fire in the Borgo.

Knecht, 1994, 432, 433, Fig. 78, as by Rosso.

Meyer, 1995, 305, as Rosso.

Jollet, 1994, 80, noted that “le dieu de la guerre apparaît ridicule.”

Although Rosso’s authorship of this composition – as distinct from his execution of the Louvre drawing – and the identification of it with the drawing that Vasari says Rosso made in Venice for Pietro Aretino have never been seriously doubted, it may well be for the subsequent arguments in favor of recognizing the drawing as an autograph work to present its relationship to Rosso’s authentic paintings.  The tall, slender female figures in the drawing are of the same kind as those in Rosso’s Christ in Glory, executed in 1529-1530, and the faces of the women intimately resemble those in that painting (Fig.P.20a).  Mars’ face is almost identical to that of the soldier wearing a helmet in the same picture.  The hand of the Grace at the right, with its slender, curving, boneless fingers, is also borne by the seated female saint in the upper left corner of the picture in Città di Castello.  The richly folded and creased draperies in the drawing are of the same kind that clothe the figures in the Christ in Glory.  Very similar comparisons can also be made between the drawing and Rosso’s Pietà in Borgo Sansepolcro (Fig.P.19a) and his picture in the Louvre (Fig.P.23a).  The details of the drawing are specifically those of Rosso’s mature artistic vocabulary.  Compositionally, as well, the drawing is related to Rosso’s paintings.  The distention of the figures across the surface of the design in broad, slow-moving rhythms characterizes also the arrangement of the figures in Rosso’s pictures in Borgo Sansepolcro, in Città di Castello, and in the Louvre.  As in the Christ in Glory, the figures in the lower part of the drawing are arranged, one next to the other, across the full breadth of the composition, obstructing without, however, wholly blocking, a view into the space behind them.  The upper part of both of these scenes is spatially more open, and the figures and decorative details there are composed into a circular pattern.  In the Louvre drawing and in the Christ in Glory, three of the heads in the lower part of the compositions mark the lower limits of the circular pattern that rotates into the upper part of the scenes.  The similarity of the figural and compositional motifs of the Louvre drawing and of these paintings by Rosso is so specific as to affirm emphatically that the invention of the drawing, including that of its details, belongs to Rosso.

The use of light in the drawing is also specifically Rosso’s.  A plane of light, parallel to the surface of the drawing, sweeps in from the left, catching here and there on the salient forms in the composition.  Only parts of the scene are fully illuminated; the rest is engulfed in the prevailing dark atmosphere of the background.  This is exactly what happens in Rosso’s Pietà in Borgo Sansepolcro, in his Christ in Glory, and in his Pietà in the Louvre.  In fact, light is to a great extent the most significant artistic element in the drawing.  Moving relatively broadly across the large surfaces of the figures in the lower part of the drawing, the light is virtually shattered into tiny fragments as it is caught by the petals of the flowers, by the wings and lumpy bodies of the putti, by the edges of the crinkled drapery, and by the curly locks and intricately worked braids in the upper circular part of the composition.  In the range and precision of these sparkling effects of light and shade, one has to recognize the realization of an artistic intent that must be due to the very artist who conceived this composition.

The steely dark pen lines in the Mars and Venus are identical to those in Rosso’s study in the Albertina (Fig.D.26A) for the figure of Christ in the Borgo Sansepolcro Pietà, in the Throne of Solomon (Fig.D.34), and in the Annunciation in the Albertina (Fig.D.43a).  Mars’s tightly curled locks are rendered exactly like those of the seated youth in the foreground of the Throne of Solomon.  The white bars of light on the draperies in the Louvre drawing are applied just as they are in the Albertina Annunciation.  Finely interwoven feathery hatchings in white on the body of Mars are rendered with exactly the same delicacy as are the black pen hatchings on the torso in the study of Christ in the Albertina.  In all respects the handling of the Louvre drawing is identifiable as Rosso’s own.

The engraving that Vasari says was made from Rosso’s drawing is unsigned and undated (Fig.E.130, I).  It must, however, have been made before 1550, for it is already mentioned in the first edition of Vasari’s Vite.  The engraving is the same size and in the same direction as the Louvre drawing, the composition and details of which the print copies quite accurately.  The fundamental difference between the drawing and the print lies in the rendering of the lights.  In the drawing, the lights are largely drawn with very fine parallel white lines and crosshatching on the dark washed background and further dark washes of the drawing.  In an engraving, however, it is the shadows that must be cut into the plate; the lights cannot be drawn.  Therefore, the engraving of the Mars and Venus, in comparison with the Louvre drawing, appears as a translation of the latter into a somewhat incompatible medium.  Such a detail as the fine wire-like white strands of curly hair in the drawing that float in the air at the left of the head of the Grace at the right could not be reproduced against a dark background in an engraving.  This detail, so specifically Rosso’s – see the Saturn and Philyra (Fig.E.47a) engraved by Caraglio after a design by Rosso where similar strands of hair, black, however, instead of white, are reproduced against a white background – had to be sacrificed by the engraver reproducing the Louvre drawing.  In fact, most of the particular brilliance of the drawing is lost in the engraving.  The differences of the light in the two emphasize the untranslatable refinement of the drawing, affirming once again Rosso’s authorship of the Mars and Venus scene in the Louvre.  It also becomes clear that the drawing was not executed as a model for a print.  Rosso, who knew very well from his experiences in Rome preparing disegni di stampe for Caraglio the requirements of an engraver’s model, would never have provided an engraver with a drawing executed in the manner of the Louvre drawing.  Vasari says only that Rosso’s Venetian drawing was made into a print; he does not say that the drawing was executed as a disegno di stampa.

These comparisons between the print and the drawing should make it clear that the drawing is not copied from the print as some have thought.  If it had been, one would have to credit the copyist with all the details, characteristic of Rosso’s style, that appear in the drawing but are not found in the engraving.  In this regard, one more difference between the drawing and the print is particularly significant.  In the Louvre drawing, the pictorial area of the scene is limited at the top by a ruled pen line about an inch below the upper edge of the sheet.  The band of the Zodiac above the bed passes, as it were, behind the bare strip that borders the top of the drawing.  Some of the putti flying above the heads of the principle figures, however, project their legs out of the space of the picture over the line ruled across the top of the drawing.  In other words, they break through the foremost spatial limit of the picture.  This is a conceit that appears already in Rosso’s Assumption at SS. Annunziata (Fig.P.3a) and frequently in the prints, particularly the Labors of Hercules executed by Caraglio in Rome after Rosso’s designs (Fig.E.20; Fig.E.21; Fig.E.22; Fig.E.24).  This spatial delightfulness in the Louvre drawing does not appear in the engraving of the Mars and Venus scene.  Instead, the Zodiac band fades away ambiguously over the top of the bed and the putti stay in their places within the picture area.  Nor is this amusing spatial device to be found in any other version of this composition, drawn, painted, or printed (see COPY below).  It is unique to the Louvre drawing.  Certainly its appearance in this drawing is not the invention of a copyist working from the engraving.

The Mars and Venus drawing in the Louvre is certainly by Rosso.  It must also be concluded that it is the drawing Vasari says Rosso did in Venice for Pietro Aretino.  Rosso arrived in Venice shortly after Maundy Thursday, 14 April, 1530.  He was already in France in November of that year.  Adhémar’s suggestion that the drawing was made on Aretino’s advice to encourage Francis I to call Rosso into his service would seem to indicate that the drawing preceded the artist to France.  It is likely, then, that the drawing was made in the late spring or summer of 1530.2  The supposition that the drawing was sent to France is somewhat supported by its having been in the Jabach Collection, from which it entered the French Royal Collection in 1671.  Bacou has suggested (see above) that it may have been one of the drawings collected by Desneux de La Noue (early XVIIth century, died before 1657) from the studios at Fontainebleau.3

COPY, PRINT: Anonymous, E.130 (Fig.E.130, I).  The print that Vasari says was made after the Louvre drawing has been attributed to Caraglio but it is most probable that he was not the engraver.  All other paintings, drawings, and prints of the Mars and Venus scene are dependent upon this engraving and are listed as copies under E.130.


1 See Splendours of the Gonzaga, exh. cat., ed. D. Chambers and J. Martineau, London, 1981-1982, 166-167, no. 116, with Fig.  The fragment shows only the lower half of the satyr, whose pose is similar to that of Rosso’s Mars; the satyr may also have quite small genitals.  However, the satyr’s right leg is turned out and is described in profile, which the leg of Mars is not.  It is, thus, not imperative that Rosso knew this relief when he made the Louvre drawing.  Scailliérez would see in the similarity an argument in favor of a stop by Rosso in Mantua on the way to Venice.  But Vasari says that the artist went to Venice by way of Pesaro, which could mean a trip by sea.  But even by land the road from Pesaro to Venice does not go through Mantua.  It is more likely that Rosso stopped in Mantua on the way westward to France (see Chapter VII).

2 Adhémar, 1954, 312-313, proposed that the drawing is an allegory of Francis I related to the situation following the Paix des Dames of 3 August 1529, in which the king “provisionally abandoned his military ambitions, prepared to marry Charles V’s sister, and planned to glorify his reign by setting himself up as a protector of the arts and of artists.”  If this compelling interpretation is true, then the drawing might have been done only after the first week of July 1530, when Francis I married Eleanor of Austria.  In support of Adhémar’s interpretation, the Panofskys, 1958, 176, n. 110, suggested that the Balance of the Zodiac, as the sign of Francis I, who was born on 12 September 1494, is placed immediately above the figure of Mars to signify the king.  The position of the two signs above, of Libra and of Scorpio, is the same as in Marcantonio’s Two Women with the Signs of Libra and Scorpio, of around 1517-20.  Here, as Bernice Davidson suggested, the signs may show the contrast of balanced judgment and passion or violence (see Shoemaker and Broun, 1982, 137-139, no. 40, for other interpretations not so likely related to Rosso’s image).  Cox-Rearick, 1984, 170, n. 38, thought that the two zodiac signs – the “‘rising’ scales of Libra, diurnal house of Venus, and sign of love and concord” and the “‘descending’ …scorpion, for Scorpio, diurnal house of the warlike Mars” indicate that the drawing is “an allegory of the marriage of Francis I and Eleanor of Austria, in which Francis-Mars is ‘defeated’ by the love of Eleanor-Venus.”  Wilson-Chevalier, 1993, 46-47, n. 25, identified the scorpion as a crab, and hence as the sign of Cancer, and interpreted the drawing accordingly.  This is certainly incorrect, not only because the sign looks like a scorpion and not a crab, as Rosso knew how to draw one in his Roman Hercules Killing the Hydra composition (Fig.E.21), but also because the Crab in this position would violate the order of the zodiac signs where Scorpio follows Libra.

3 In 1625 Cassiano del Pozzo saw in the Cabinet des Peintures at Fontainebleau: “…un quadretto di Marte et Venere…” that he said was by Rosso (Pozzo-Müntz, 1886, 269).  Describing the pictures by Rosso in the same location, Dan, 1642, 136 (Kusenberg, 1931, 102, 201, n. 233), remarked: “Or en ce cabinet il y en a encore de particuliers de sa main. …un Mars et une Vénus en petit.”  This could be one of the two paintings of Mars and Venus recorded in the inventory of 19 January 1692 (verified in October 1694) of the Cabinet des Peintures at Fontainebleau: “Un tableau de Mars et Vénus, sur bois” and “Un tableau de Mars et Vénus, sur thoille” (Herbet, 1937, 94).  However, neither one of these paintings is attributed to an artist in this inventory.

Dimier, 1904, 72, thought that a painting of Mars and Venus may have been among the first pictures executed by Rosso for Francis I to which Vasari refers.  Kusenberg, 1931, 102, suggested that the painting mentioned by Dan was either the picture executed by Rosso in Venice for Pietro Aretino or a duplicate of it made by Rosso in France.  According to Cox-Rearick, 1972, 35, it may have been the “grant tableau” that Rosso is recorded to have made for the king in 1530-1531 (see L.36, and DOC.15).  But if the small painting seen by Del Pozzo and Dan was Rosso’s, it could not have been the large painting done for Francis I.  Herbet, 1937, 94, n. 5, expressed the opinion that the panel painting listed in the inventory of 1692 once decorated the fireplace of the room of Catherine de’Medici or the Pavillon des Reines Mères, from which it was removed in 1664, in which case it was most likely not the painting seen by Dan in 1642, or by Del Pozzo in 1625.  However, the other Mars and Venus in the inventory of 1692 was on canvas, which was a support known to have been used only once by Rosso for his Moses Killing the Egyptian and Defending the Daughters of Jethro (P.14).  Scailliérez, 1992, 119, under no. 49, thought the picture mentioned at Fontainebleau as Rosso’s was preceded by his Mars and Venus drawing in the Louvre.

It should be noted that there is no source from the sixteenth century that indicates that Rosso painted a picture of this subject.  Vasari mentions only the drawing made in Venice in 1530 and now in the Louvre, from which the anonymous engraving was made in France probably very shortly thereafter (Fig.E.130, I), and from which all other versions of this composition are derived, including the two small paintings in Montargis and formerly (?) in the Arthur Kay Collection in Dowdeswell, neither of which is by Rosso (see E.130).  There is some possibility that one of these panel paintings is the picture that Del Pozzo and Dan saw at Fontainebleau. Even if they are not there is no guarantee that the one they did see was not also a painting derived from the engraving.  Still there is some possibility that they were correct in identifying the painting they saw as Rosso’s.  It could have been derived from his drawing in the Louvre.  Or, of course, it could have been of an entirely different composition.  Neither Del Pozzo nor Dan mentions the support of the pictures they saw but it is unlikely, although perhaps not entirely impossible, that what they saw was the Louvre drawing by Rosso.