Fantasy in Titian’s Venus of Urbino

Titian is an example of a Venetian artist who uses the figure of Venus to portray female sexuality. The first image of female masturbation is represented in the Venus of Urbino (1538). Within the image (Figure 2), the venereal hand is curled into her body. With the enticing gaze, the figure is luring the viewer into her bedchamber, allowing them to witness her self-pleasuring. There is a further act of fantasy solely due to the two figures in the background. The fear of being caught by these figures is dangerous and fun, allowing the viewer to hesitate before taking a closer look so as not to be caught. We as the viewer can understand the allure Venus has; she draws us in with an enticing gaze and her hand caressing her inner thigh. The representation of Venus using her sexuality to tempt her audience can be related to Veronica Franco and courtesans in Venice. The women are using their sexuality to captivate the viewer, and in the case of the courtesans, their clients. Titian’s depiction of a woman flirting with the viewer, has failed to address the underlying worries of courtesans. Although Venus is seductive in the image, and is a representation of a powerful, sexual female figure, Veronica Franco describes the faults of the life of a courtesan. As represented in Poem 1, Franco writes a about the fate of the sexuality of women. “Poor female sex, you are forever troubled with evil fortune, held in base subjection and forced to live deprived of liberty!”[1] At their birth, women are destined to portray an allure of sexuality, without the learned education that men are entitled. Franco recognizes that even with the ability to seduce men, such as depicted in the Venus of Urbino, women are subjected to a worse fate of being uneducated. Titian enhances the exotic fantasy of a masturbating nude female, but fails to acknowledge the flaws that Venetian women face. The poems and letters of Veronica Franco allow her audience to understand the restraint that Venetian society has on women.

Titian.  Venus of Urbino.  Oil on Canvas.  1538.

Titian. Venus of Urbino. Oil on Canvas. 1538.

For more sensual Titian Venuses, see the entry in our exhibit, The Goddess of Beauty or the Goddess of Desire, by Jessie Busch.


[1] Veronica Franco, “Terza Rima 24,” in Women Poets of the Italian Renaissance: Courtly Ladies and Courtesans, 205-206.

Next: Franco and King Henri III

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