The Birth of Venus
Nicolas Poussin, French, 1594 - 1665
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The subject of this grand mythological painting remains a topic of lively debate: some see the birth of Venus, some see her triumphal parade, and others see the sea god Neptune's marine procession. There is even disagreement as to whether Venus is depicted at all. The woman in the center might instead be Galatea, a sea nymph who is often shown riding in a cockleshell chariot drawn by dolphins. As reflected here, Poussin exercised great skill in introducing multiple meanings and rich ambiguity into his paintings of classical themes. This painting used to belong to Catherine the Great and still bears a Russian inscription on the frame and a Hermitage Museum inventory number on the lower left corner of the canvas. It was sold by the Soviet government in 1930.