In this seductive picture, a female nude reclines in luxurious surroundings that include a brocade curtain and richly adorned pillow with a large tassel and decorative gold leaves. Her supple body is presented fully to the viewer, a diaphanous cloth her only covering as light and shadow emphasize the curves of her form. Although the presence of the winged boy suggests that the subject is Venus and Cupid, the composition in fact corresponds to a drawing by Bloemaert depicting Danaë, the daughter of the King of Acrisius of Argo. The drawing, in a private collection (fig. 1), is in the same direction as the present work, as opposed to the subsequent print, which was engraved and published in 1610 by Jacob Matham, stepson of Hendrick Goltzius (see Roethlisberger, op. cit., no. 106, p. 148). In contrast to the present painting, the works on paper portray the nude resting her head on her hand and she is accompanied by an older woman, catching coins that fall from the sky, identifying the subject unmistakably as Danaë.
Titian's seminal full-length nudes were a key precedent for Bloemaert in creating the present work. In his multiple versions of Danaë, he depicted her both with Cupid and an older woman, who represented a rapacious maid (see versions in the National Museum of Capodimonte, dated 1544 and Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, dated 1564). The similarities between Bloemaert's composition and those of Titian suggest he likely saw a print or workshop copy after the artist (see E.J. Sluijter, 'Emulating Sensual Beauty: Representations of Danaë from Gossaert to Rembrandt,' Simiolus 27, nos. 1/2, 1999, p. 39). Yet artists far closer to Bloemaert produced similar reclining nudes, such as a Jupiter and Danaë by Bloemaert's contemporary in Utrecht, Joachim Wtewael (Musée du Louvre, inv. RF 1979-23) or the Sleeping Venus in the Musée des Beaux Arts, Dijon (inv. 135) by Dirck van Ravesteyn. Most closely related to the present work is a monumental Danaë of 1603 now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (inv. M.84 191) by Hendrick Goltzius, which Bloemaert may have known through his friend Aernout van Buchell (see E.J. Sluijter 1999, loc. cit. ). As noted by Sluijter, this was among the first subjects Goltzius painted after turning from printmaking to painting around 1600. With pictures like these, Goltzius harnessed the painted nude as a powerful conduit between the sense of sight and the arousal of lust (see E.J. Sluijter, 'Venus, Visus en Pictura,' in R. Falkenburg et al., Goltzius-studies: Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617), Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, 42-43 (1991-1992), pp. 338-339). For Bloemaert this subject is somewhat unusual: the present picture is one of his few full-length nudes, another being a print of 1607, also engraved by Matham, of Cupid and Psyche (Roethlisberger, op. cit., no. 102, fig. 177). In exploring this subject, presented with elegant compositional simplicity in the present work, Bloemaert established a link to the rich 16th-century tradition of portrayals of the recumbent female nude, in both Italy and the north.