Peter Paul Rubens presented his Venus in Front of the Mirror as the ultimate symbol of beauty. She is aware of the viewer in a mirror that frames her face like a portrait. Great play is made of the sensual reproduction of her skin and silky hair, which is further enlivened by the contrast with the dark-skinned maidservant. The few costly accessories, otherwise decorative additions to elaborate clothing, emphasize the figure’s nakedness.

The sensual qualities of the painting are created by Rubens’s subtle painterly approach. He alternates sketchy brushstrokes, drawn over the ground like a transparent veil, with compact areas, painted in great detail. One particularly attractive feature of the picture is the contrast between the goddess’s encounter with the viewer, which seems to occur almost by chance, and the representation of her beauty, as if conceived for a spectator. The mirror that Cupid holds up for the goddess reveals an additional level of meaning: the reflection of Venus, which reveals her beauty to the viewer, becomes a symbol of painting that competes with nature to produce an image that is as real as possible. Rubens modelled his work on compositions by Titian and Veronese that combine Venus and a mirror, and probably also offered this possible interpretation.
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Peter Paul Rubens
Venus in Front of the Mirror, 1614/1615
Oil on panel
height 123 cm, width 98 cm
Inv.-No. GE120
Provenance: presumably acquired by Prince Johann Adam Andreas I von Liechtenstein from the art dealer Peter van Hecke in Antwerp
Further works on display
Decius Mus relating his dream, 1616/1617
Decius Mus preparing for Death, 1616/1617
The Death of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Obsequies of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Dismissal of the Lictors, 1616/1617
The Interpretation of the Victim, 1616/1617
The Trophy, 1616/1617
The Assumption of the Virgin, c. 1637
Oil sketch of Mars and Rhea Silvia, c. 1616/1617
Mars und Rhea Silvia, c. 1616/1617
The Discovery of the Infant Erichthonius, c. 1616
Satyr and Maid with Fruit Basket, 1615
The Lamentation, c. 1612
Christ Triumphant over Sin and Death, 1615/1622
Double Portrait of Albert and Nikolaus Rubens, c. 1626/1627
Portrait of Jan Vermoelen, 1616
Portrait of Clara Serena Rubens, c. 1616
Henry IV seizes the Opportunity to conclude Piece, 1628
The Victory of Henry IV at Coutras, 1628
The Consecration of Decius Mus, 1616/1617
The Obsequies of Decius Mus
Three Music-Making Angels, on the reverse side of St Joachim, 1615/1620
St. Catherine in the Clouds, 1620/1621
Four Music-Making Angels, on the reverse side of St Anne, 1615/1620
Apollo in the Chariot of the Sun, 1621/1625
The Conversion of St. Paul, 1601/1602
Perseus and Andromeda
The Virgin adorned with flowers, 1609/1610
Psyche taken up into Olympus, 1621
Landscape with Milkmaids and Cows, 1616
Allegory of war, 1628
The Hunt of Meleager and Atalanta, 1628 (?)
The Assumption of the Virgin, modello, 1637
Ganymede, 1611/1612
Diana´s Hunt, 1628
St. Francis of Assisi before the Crucified Christ, 1625
Portrait of a Monk (?)
Adoration of the Magi, 1609/1610
The Visitation, 1611/1612
Portrait of Nicolaas Rockox, 1615
Samson and Delilah, c. 1610
Related themes
Rubens in Wien
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