'Venus Verticordia', Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Portrait painting of a naked young woman in a group of flowers

Oil on canvas, painted about 1863-68, 83.8 x 71.2cm, Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth. Purchased with the assistance of The National Art Collections Fund 1945

The title, 'Venus, turner of hearts', derives from Latin literature, where it designates the role of Venus, goddess of love and beauty, in turning women's hearts towards virtue.

However, Rossetti interpreted it in the opposite sense, to mean turning men's hearts away from fidelity. This is evident in his sonnet for the picture. The roses, honeysuckle, apple and nude figure all contribute to the theme of love and sexuality.

She hath the apple in her hand for thee,
Yet almost in her heart would hold it back;
She muses, with her eyes upon the track
Of that which in thy spirit they can see.
Haply, 'Behold, he is at peace,' saith she;
'Alas! the apple for his lips, - the dart
That follows its brief sweetness to his heart,-
The wandering of his feet perpetually!'

A little space her glance is still and coy;
But if she give the fruit that works her spell,
Those eyes shall flame as for her Phrygian boy.
Then shall her bird's strained throat the woe foretell,
And her far seas moan as a single shell,
And through her dark grove strike the light of Troy.

This is almost the only example of a nude in Rossetti's work.

However, in the later 1860s a number of English artists began to experiment with the nude figure. Rossetti's painting, designed as early as 1863, was among the first in this remarkable Victorian revival of the nude.