The Lovers – Giulio Romano

I recently was able to view the original of this painting, which is housed in The Hermitage in St.Petersburg. 

Painted by Giulio Romano, who was a student of Raphael, he was not only a painter, but also an architect, he designed tapestries and rumoured to have contributed to the drawings of I Modi.  Romano heavily influenced the change in high renaissance painting to the mannerism style, which moved the detail of work away from the balance and symmetrical ideals of perfection to exaggerated qualities and facial expressions which lead to the more natural asymmetrical elegance in art.

There is a lot of speculation around this painting, as to who the subjects are.  There are key notes of Zeus in the carvings of the bed where Zeus has changed in to a satyr to seduce Antiope.

Regardless of who the subjects are this painting is steeped in symbolism which is the part that has intruged me about this piece.  

The guide that I had around the Hermitage gave a nice rundown of the painting which I will break down and expand on as I liked the explanation that she gave.

Lets start with the obvious…the two lovers on the bed.  They are clearly passionate about each other, draped in to each other’s arms, bed clothes asunder, the look that they share.  The viewer of this painting can tell this is no passing fling.  

Nice and easy symbolism so far, so let’s move to the slippers on the floor.  They look out of place in this scene as I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be seen dead in slippers with a guy I was giving this look to, but they serve a purpose, they indicate that there is a marriage,but because they are set apart from each other, it depicts that the couple on the bed are not married to each other.  The cat (a little hard to see in the picture but it’s there next to the slippers) indicates that it is the women who is married as it is set on the side that the women is sat on.  The cat also symbolises the sneaky and illicit actions of the couple.

The women at the door is the lady in waiting, bare footed so she can be descreet, she has come to warn her mistress of the impending arrival of her husband, but as her hand is in the ring on the outside if the door it indicates that she is leaving the room not entering.  The dog at the lady in waitings lap indicates the loyalty which she has to her mistress and is the couterbalanace to the cat in the picture.  The dog can also be seen as the playful side of the relationship which is unfolding before you, the actions of the lovers not being deterred by the lady in waiting which is forcing her to leave the room.

The keys at the lady in waitings waist indicates that there are children in the marriage which she is minding, while her mistress is “busy”.

Finally there is the colour of the skin of the lovers, this could be put down to age of the painting or a mistake of the artist, but considering the rest of the painting this simply isn’t the case, they are white with shock at having to part their love due to the suspected return of the women’s husband, desperate to stay together but too scared to be found out.

I love this painting for the story it tells, the look between the lovers and the whole composition of the piece.


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