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© Bees in Art 2011

Recommended books featuring Lucas Cranach the Elder's drawings and paintings.
Lucas Cranach The Elder's painted 'Cupid Complaining to Venus' around 1526. Cupid is depicted stealing honey from a bees nest in a tree, being stung by the irate bees and complaining to his mother Venus, the goddess of love, who stands exquisitely by and chastises Cupid: 'There's never sweetness without pain'.

'Cupid Complaining to Venus' is now residing in
Room 4 of the National Gallery, London, and is painted in oils on wooden panel. Typically influenced by Italian Renaissance painting, Cranach's Northern Renaissance style presents Cupid and Venus with splendid luminosity. A quality uniquly achievable by the use of transparent layers of oil paint, which allow light to pass through and illuminate a painting seemingly from within.

Lucas Cranach Born 1472 / Died 1553
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Cupid stung by Bees: Never sweetness without pain.
'Cupid Complaining to Venus' oil on wood 81.3 x 54.6 cm by Lucas Cranach the Elder
Never sweetness without pain? Learn about Lucas Cranach and Venus' message about the inevitable pain of love - with James Heard, National Gallery Education:
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Click here to see The National Gallery's High Res Cupid and Venus
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Cupid, Honeybees and Pain: The Bee's Sting

A honeybee will sting an intruder if it perceives a threat, this is a defensive mechansim. Once the bee has stung the intruder an alarm pheronome is released and alerts other bees from the hive. They may also sting. A bee's sting is a modified ovipositor and during the act of stinging, bee venom is injected into the intruder through the sting. In humans this results in pain and itching, and motivates the intruder to flee the vicinity. The bees have then successfully defended their home.

Robbing wild honeybees of their honey, as Cupid does here, would almost certainly result in angry bees and stinging. Sometimes death may also result from a bee sting, this is called
anaphylactic reaction or shock. Honeybees often target the eyes of their disturber, apparently attracted by their movement. A sting in the eye is intensely painful (as the author can testify) and any attack of the eyes causes panic. In such a situation Cupid would see the disturbed bees fly towards him and here them buzzing angrily. He would experience immediate pain as the bees stung his flesh. The ensuing pain, panic and threat to his vulnerable parts, would cause Cupid to desire to flee. Later Cupid's stings would redden, swell, remain painful, and become itchy: along with Venus' chastisement, a lasting reminder of his theft.

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Lucas Cranach the Elder aged 77 by Lucas Cranach the Younger (1550), at the Uffizi GalleryFlorence
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Cranach has located Cupid and Venus at the edge of a wild wood. In the background we see civilization, farmed fields and a house. The bees have made their home in a tree and cannot be considered domesticated. Along with a stag and hind, they are residents of the wild wood. Cranach is emphasising Cupid's vulnerability to the bees' stings, with his depiction of wilderness. Cupid's nakedness reminds us of man's vulnerability and mortality. He emphasises the wildness of the wood by contrasting it with civilization. The bees' wildness increases their potential for danger, they are unmastered by man. When bees attack the intensity of their 'buzzing' increases, giving an audible warning of their annoyance. Cranach's painting buzzes with the angry bees flying around Cupid.

A simple moral lesson is delivered: there's no sweetness without pain. Cupid is stung by the bees whose sweet honey he has just stolen. Venus is the witness to Cupid's discomfort and theft. She
is the recipient of Cupid's gift of honey, which she acknowledges by delivering him with a moral lesson - Cupid's naivety and greed is punished with stings and pain. As a Lutherian, Cranach was privy to the idea that absolution by God could not be bought with money, that pleasure always comes with a price and salvation comes only through faith in God.