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Birth of Venus

Musée d’Orsay, Paris


Art critic Philip Gilbert Hamerton admired Cabanel’s Birth of Venus when he saw it at the 1863 Salon:

“She lay in full light on a soft couch of clear sea-water that heaved under her with gleams of tender azure and pale emerald, wherein her long hair half mingled, as if it were a little rippling stream of golden water losing itself in the azure deep. The form was wildly voluptuous, the utmost extremities participating in a kind of rhythmical, musical motion. The soft, sleepy eyes just opened to the light were beaming with latent passion, and there was a half-childish, half-womanly waywardness in the playful tossing of the white arms. The whole figure was colored with a dazzling delicacy.”

Cited in Bram Dijkstra, Idols of Peversity. Fantasies of Feminine Evil in Fin-de-Siècle Culture (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), 106.


Birth of Venus was engraved by Léopold Flameng and published in the Gazette des beaux-arts in December 1863. In 1864, Flameng’s engraving was exhibited at the Salon. Also in 1864, Cabanel sold reproduction rights of the painting to Adolphe Goupil who, in 1870, had it engraved by Alphonse François.

Similar Subjects by Other Artists:

Sandro Botticelli, Birth of Venus, 1485 (Uffizi, Florence)

Nicolas Poussin, Birth of Venus, 1636 (Philadelphia Museum of Art)

Francois Boucher, Birth of Venus, 1740 (Nationalmuseum, Stockholm)

Honoré Fragonard, Birth of Venus, 1754 (Musée Grobet-Labadié, Marseilles)

Jean-Jacques Henner, Reclining Nymph, 1865/70 (Portland Art Museum, Oregon)

Gustave Moreau, Birth of Venus, 1866

Fritz Zuber-Buhler, Birth of Venus, 1877 (Pope Jean Paul II Collection, Warsaw)

About the Artist

Born: Montpellier, 8 September 1823
Died: Paris, 23 January 1889
Nationality: French