Art Gallery collection pre-1974 (There is no record of how this work came into the collection.)

North Italian Mannerist
Oil paint on canvas, 88.5 x 109.5
John Shearman, Mannerism, Harmondsworth, 1967; Hugh Honour and John Fleming, A World History of Art, London 1982, pp 349–87
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The subject of this painting has been identified as The Death of Adonis, although, given the amount of attention and space given to his supine body relative to the dynamic pose of Aphrodite, as she discovers it, a more accurate title might be Aphrodite discovering the Body of Adonis. The Greek myth of Adonis, god of beauty and desire, is that he was the son of the King of Syria, Theias and his daughter, Myrrha. Aphrodite fell in love with him, but a love battle occurred when Persephone also claimed and protected him. When Adonis chose Aphrodite, Persephone withdrew her protection and Adonis was killed by Artemis (in the form of a wild boar). The distortions of Aphrodite’s body and the sinuous line created by her movements are classic features of Mannerism. Adonis is given far less importance than she. Even Eros to her right, is shown in a vigorous and energetic pose. It would have been quite normal to depict a classical mythological subject about a man, where the underlying story is merely an excuse to portray a female nude, the relevance of which to the actual narrative is quite superficial. Mannerism is the name given to a period in art history immediately following the High Renaissance. It began in Italy around 1520 and continued until the end of the century. It is often thought to be a reaction to the serenity and balance of Renaissance art, and also to a new period of disquiet following the invasion of Rome in 1527. Mannerist art is characterized by an anti-naturalist approach in painting and sculpture in which the body is often distorted (elongated or overly muscular), and colour is used stridently, not to mimic the outward appearance of nature but to allow for greater emotional expression. The main focus in Mannerist painting is usually slightly off-centre and full of curving lines to imply motion. Its most famous exponents are Michelangelo in his later work, Pontormo and El Greco. Mannerism had many followers in Northern Europe too, particularly in the Netherlands and Germany. This painting was thought by a team in the NGI who examined it in 1980 to have been the work of a Northern Italian Mannerist.