Venus and Adonis

ca. 1725Francisco Vieira LusitanoPortuguese, 1669–1783red chalk9 11/16 in. × 7 3/8 in. (24.6 cm. × 18.7 cm.)

Bequest of the Honorable James Bowdoin III


This drawing captures one of the ancient myths most frequently depicted in later European art: the affair between the goddess Venus and the mortal Adonis. In the popular myth, which is recounted in the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Venus is struck by an errant arrow from Cupid’s bow and falls in love with the beautiful but mortal youth Adonis. In this drawing, Venus is seen taking leave of Adonis and entering her heavenly chariot. With his spear at his feet, Adonis is accompanied by his hunting dogs, foreshadowing his dismal fate. The myth of Venus and Adonis was popular subject matter for later authors and artists like Veronese, Rubens, and Pousin. The Renaissance artist Titian and his studio produced some thirty versions of this theme in paintings, a copy of which was also collected by James Bowdoin III. This drawing shows the influence of the Roman painter Carlo Maratti (1625–1713) and may have been drawn by a member of his workshop or followers.

—Sean P. Burrus

James Bowdoin III

The son of the wealthy merchant and second governor of Massachusetts, James Bowdoin II, Bowdoin figured among a small group of leading figures who recognized the value of art in fostering enlightened ideals and philosophical contemplation among a budding republic.