The Rokeby Venus, also known as The Toilet of Venus is an oil painting by Baroque Spanish artist Diego Velazquez.
It is a very rare example of a Spanish painting from the 17th century that features a nude woman – in this case, Venus, in her toilette laying down with Cupid, the god of love beside her holding a mirror up to her.
The Mirror – which also features in Velazquez’s most famous painting ‘Las Meninas’, is presenting an impossible image from that angle. Cupid holds the mirror at such an angle that her face shouldn’t be present – or if it was, then it would also show more than just her head. This is known as the Venus Effect which is quite prevalent in art history.
Rokeby Venus is a very large painting – 1.8 meters wide. It was almost certainly painted during one of Velazquez’s two visits to Italy during his lifetime – either in 1629 or twenty years later in 1649. It is the only surviving nude painting by Velazquez – a small number of others were documented however are presumed to be lost.
The Rokeby Venus was famously damaged in 1906 when British suffragette Mary Richardson repeatedly slashed the canvas with a cleaver in protest while it hung in the National Gallery in London and was quoted that it was not for the value of the artwork and to make headlines, but rather the result of “the way men visitors gaped at it all day long”.
Diego Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus – named for the painting’s owner in the 19th century John Morritt of Rokeby Park, a large country house in Northern England, and can now be viewed in the National Gallery in London, United Kingdom.