The present canvas, depicting a lady and her son in the guise of Venus and Cupid is most likely a portrait, executed by Jacob van Loo towards the end of his career, when the eminent Dutch master had become a naturalised Frenchman. Identified as the Goddess of Love by the golden apple she holds, the woman here depicted was likely the wife of an elite Parisian patron of the artist. David Mandrella dates the work to around 1670, the year of van Loo’s death, rendering it an important record of the refined, but salacious, classicism of the master’s late oeuvre.
The half-smile on Venus’s face, inviting yet courtly, and the strings of pearls glimmering against the dark tresses of her hair, recall the eroticised charge of van Loo’s earlier works of his Amsterdam period, where for a time his compositions featuring nudes and suggestive mythological scenes were more sought after than Rembrandt’s paintings. However, van Loo’s stabbing to death of a man in a dockside tavern brawl led to the artist’s flight to France, where his mastery of light, form and texture were greatly appreciated by his Parisian clientele.