Hendrick de Clerck

Flemish (c. 1570–1630)

Mars and Venus Surprised by Vulcan


Oil on panel

Gift of Dr. Gordon Gilbert in memory of Mrs. Adele Gilbert


The mythological story of Venus and Mars surprised by Venus’ husband Vulcan is a tale of passion and revenge. The beauty of Venus was irresistible: Ovid wrote in The Art of Love: “Mars, stirred by mad desire for Venus, was turned from grim warrior to lover.” Venus’ son Cupid hovers above the couple and points his arrow at their hearts. Discovering their affair, Vulcan, god of fire and the forge, sets a trap for them, and asks the other gods to judge them.

Born in Brussels, De Clerck trained under the great Antwerp Romanists Frans Floris and Marten de Vos. Like them, he painted muscular, sculptural nudes, traveling to Rome in 1587. His mannerism grew more courtly and elegant. De Clerck’s artificiality and intensified, almost metallic, palette, further distinguish him from his predecessors. The composition, however, was likely inspired by a 1585 print by Northern Mannerist Hendrick Goltzius.

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