The goddess Venus was born from the sea foam formed around the genitals of Uranus, which his son Cronus had thrown into the sea after his father had been buried. Herrlein’s painting follows the ancient depictions where Venus is wringing the water from her hair with both hands. She is then brought to the shores of Cyprus (or Crete) by the breath of Zephyrus, the god of the west wind. The sea-centaurs depicted behind Venus represent her voyage across the sea. As Venus was born out of untold pain, she also inflicts it on others, including her small, helpless and sweet companion Eros (Amor), depicted at her side with a bow and arrows. According to some interpretations, Eros is the oldest of the gods, born of the Night (Nyx), full of fierce creative power but also of the horrors of the world. The reverse side of his sweetness is thus bestiality, as Sappho wrote: “Eros the melter of limbs (now again) stirs me – sweetbitter unmanageable creature who steals in.” That Venus was, among other things, a patron of lovers is illustrated by a pair of doves, associated with the goddess, who are touching beaks, while the rainbow in the background bridges the here with the hereafter.
Herrlein was a late-Baroque artist, known mainly as a church painter and portraitist. The Birth of Venus stands out in its iconography, while retaining the painter’s restrained palette and Baroque elements, such as the light contrasts between the dark background surfaces and the bright bodies of Venus and Eros, while dynamism is achieved through the steamy mist partially obscuring Venus and
forming into clouds.
from the National Museum, 1933