This recently re-discovered and unpublished picture by Spranger is an important addition to the artist’s late oeuvre. Relatively few pictures are both signed and dated by Spranger, and given that very few of those are dated to, or around the year 1600, this picture helps to clarify the chronology of the artist’s works.
Venus is shown dismounting her chariot, pulled by two doves, and accompanied by two putti, one of whom is holding a thin net, possibly a reference to Venus’s adultery with Mars. The mountain seen below might be Mount Ida on Crete, which is associated with Venus in several myths. The darker tonality of this painting is consistent with paintings executed by Spranger that are datable around 1600, such as his Allegory of Mortality in Wawel Castle, Krakow. The sinuous contrapposto of the sensuous nude is comparable to the fgure of Venus in Spranger’s Venus and Adonis in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (inv. no. 2526) of the mid 1590s, while her fuller corporeality resembles more that of Venus in a signed and dated painting of 1597 in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg (inv. no. 1167).
Spranger was one of the leading painters to the court of Emperor Rudolf II in Prague in 1600: he was made ‘painter by royal appointment’ in 1584 and granted a coat-of-arms and triple chain by the Emperor in 1588. Three as yet unidentified paintings by Spranger of Venus are listed in inventories drawn up in 1610-1619 in Vienna (nos. 19 and 211), where they would probably have been brought from Prague, and in 1621 in Prague itself (no. 1026). Given the large size and quality of this painting, it is entirely possible that it came from the Imperial collections, but in the absence of information about the picture’s provenance it is impossible to verify this.
We are grateful to Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann and Eliska Fucikova for confirming the attribution to Spranger, on the basis of photographs, and for independently suggesting that this painting may come from the Imperial collection of Rudolf II. We are further thankful to Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann for his assistance in compiling this catalogue entry.