John Deare – English, 1785 – 1787 – Venus Reclining on a Sea Monster with Cupid and a Putto
, the goddess of love and beauty, reclines on a fantastic goat-headed sea monster in this allegory of Lust. The goddess entwines her fingers in the creature’s beard–a so-called “chin-chucking” gesture that represents erotic intent–while the monster licks her hand in response. , astride the monster’s long tail, is poised to shoot an arrow at Venus, while in the background a putti adds to the amorous imagery by holding a flaming torch, undoubtedly meant to suggest the burning ardor of desire. The sea goat carries Venus through the frothy waves, carved with energy and precision.
John Deare displayed his great skill in carving a variety of levels and textures in this sculpture, from the low relief of the Cupid and putti to the smooth, half-relief of Venus, and finally to the sea-goat’s fully three-dimensional snout and wavy strands of hair. Deare’s depiction of Lust as a woman riding a goat forms part of an iconographic tradition that has been popular since the Middle Ages.