(Pieve di Cadore 1488-90 - Venice 1576)
'400 - '500
oil on canvas, cm 118x278
Collection of Cardinal Scipione Borghese (1617)
Because of the absolute lack of documents regarding its execution and its entry into the Borghese collection, the work has constituted a veritable interpretive enigma for centuries. In all probability, it was commissioned by the Secretary of Venice’s Council of Ten, Niccolò Aurelio – whose coat of arms is engraved on the front of the sarcophagus –on the occasion of his marriage to Laura Bagarotto, whose arms appear on the bottom of the silver bowl on the ledge. The allusion to nuptial symbology is expressed by the little crown of myrtle and the buckle – both of which are attributes of marital love – worn by the seated woman on the left. The linchpin of the compositionis the evident juxtaposition of the two women with similar features: one dressed and looking toward the viewer, the other nude and looking at the first one with an air of exhortation. The lamp the latter is holding allows her to be identified as Venus, while in the middle Cupid is stirring the water of the sarcophagus transformed into a fountain.
The most recent scholarly considerations tend to privilege the matrimonial meaning of the painting, i.e. the celebration of the qualities of the perfect bride, who is portrayed splendidly dressed in her public dignity, with a wealth of nuptial attributes befitting her social rank, but at the same time, nude and burning with true love for her groom, as she will appear to him in the private sphere.