Venus in Art: Rivera and Freud

Tuesday December 10th 2013
Dona Elena Flores de Carrillo by Diego Rivera. (1952)

The Mexican muralist Diego Rivera was born on December 8, 1886.

The British painter Lucian Freud was born on December 8, 1922.

The sign of Sagittarius – half-man, half-beast. Centaurs were notorious for their brawling and rapine. Animal passions, Jovian appetites.

The life stories of these two artists share quite a few themes. For a start, these were larger than life characters; both world famous in their own lifetimes. In particular, their private lives became the stuff of legend — at least two films have been made about Rivera’s marriage to Frida Kahlo. Their work was critically acclaimed, loved by critics and collectors. These were Artists with a capital A, living the bohemian life to the full. Both were notorious womanisers, fathering numerous children, much like the centaurs of ancient times, and breaking hearts.

But their work looks quite different.

Girl with a white dog (1952-53)

The position of Venus, the planet of art, is, of course, particularly important in the charts of artists. Look at the work of an artist and you can see something of how his or her Venus sets to work. In fact, you can feel, or maybe intuit, more about Venus as the planet of art from looking at paintings than from any amount of reading astrology books.

It’s instructive also to keep in mind that Venus in the chart of a man shows how he views lovers/women and in any chart, it reveals our attitude and approach to love itself.

Rivera’s Venus conjuncts his Sun in Sagittarius. That’s a big-hearted Venus, wide of horizon, and indeed his most famous works are his enormous murals, history paintings filled with colour and life, milling with people, portraits of friends and passing acquaintances, figures from history and myth. Rivera’s paintings spill over with life, with community.

What’s more, he was a travelling painter (Sag being one of the traveller’s signs). He spent many years in Europe honing his art as a young man, and painted many significant works in the USA.

Man At The Centre of the Cosmos
Pan-American Unity (1940) featuring Rivera’s wife Frida Kahlo holding a palette. Her Venus/Pluto conjunction was opposite Rivera’s Sun.

Rivera’s Venus in Sagittarius is ruled by Jupiter in Libra, and we certainly remember him now, probably more than anything else, for his marriage to Frida Kahlo, his equal in talent, charisma and, eventually, fame. That equality is a lovely expression of this Jupiter placement. During their lifetimes, Rivera had the renown but posthumously she has surely eclipsed him in the pubic esteem.

Diego Rivera (AA rated)

So, because they are in each other’s signs, Venus and Jupiter, the lesser and greater benefics, are in mutual reception in Rivera’s chart; they strengthen each other. Rivera’s Jupiter in Libra also manifested in his passion for politics.

In contrast to Rivera’s busy murals, Freud’s paintings reek of loneliness; usually there is a solo figure, sometimes there are a few. Most of the time, his sitters seem to be in his studio, a closed particular private space — how different from the public world of Rivera.

Venus can also tell us about colour. Rivera is a bold, daring colourist. He favours hot colours but not always. Freud’s palette is sombre and muted. The light is London light – pale.

Seldom does the subject look directly out of Freud’s paintings – usually they look away, close their eyes. When they do look out, the gaze seems to stop before the canvas. These are alienated people in a pale northern world.

Double portrait. 1985-86. The whippet’s name is Pluto (I’m not  kidding)

Sometimes his subjects look dead. He also liked to paint people with dogs – half man-half beast again.

Portrait with whippet.

Freud’s paintings are highly personal, yet merciless. Scorpio is the most intensely personal of signs. Critics talk about the psychological penetration of his gaze, but his paintings tell us almost nothing about the sitter — and a lot about Freud. His Venus is retrograde and in detriment. It’s ruled by Mars in cool Aquarius — which sends a tough square back to Venus (art/love is a battle) — and Pluto in Cancer.

Self portrait (I can’t find the date for this, but I think it’s in the 50s)
Look at the gaze.

I’ll leave you to contemplate the charts and see what you think. If you want to see some more Sagittarian self portraits – which in the case of these two are so revealing – click here.

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  1. Christina says:

    Take a look at the comments on Sagittarian art and you will see that Locus Beatus has a rectified birth time for Freud.

  2. Christina says:

    … and I forgot to put Freud’s chart up sorry. I will fix it now.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Dont you wonder about the dichotomy of thinking regarding pornography and art. Its either one or the other, but not both. If the nudity above is art then taking pictures moving or still of naked people and placing them in magazines is also art. Otherwise they are both porn. Soft porn but porn all the same, and not to be marvelled at just because it was painted.

    • Christina says:

      Oh I think plenty of art is pornographic.. in other words its purpose is to arouse….but I think that picture of the naked man is kind of the opposite … or maybe not. It’s a matter of taste I suppose… and then there’s different kinds of pornography too… say the pornography of violence…