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  • image P7
SM P7. ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London. Photo: Art UK

Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723 - 1792)

The Snake in the Grass; or Love unloosing the zone of Beauty


Oil on canvas

Height: 124.5cm
Width: 99. 5cm

Inscription: None

Museum number: P7

Curatorial note

This picture depicts Cupid untying the girdle of Venus. It seems likely that the young Emma, later Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson’s lover, was the model for Venus in this picture. There are two other versions, in the State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg, Russia and at Tate Britain.

John Britton in the first published guidebook to Soane's Museum wrote of this picture: 'Love and Beauty, commonly called The Snake in the Grass, a fancy picture by Sir Joshua Reynolds, is a fine specimen of that amiable and tasteful artist's productions. It has all the rich and deep tones of Titian, with a loveliness of female face which we seek for in vain in the works of the eminent Venetian painter'.

Provenance help-art-provenance

Purchased by Soane at the Christie's Sale of the Marchioness of Thomond's collection (she was Reynolds' niece) in May 1821 for £535.10.0 (see Soane Journal 21 May 1821).


Britton, J., The Union of Architecture, Sculpture and Painting, 1827, pp. 34, 53 and 56
Soane, Description, 1830, p.20 and 45
Soane, Description, 1835, p. 7 and 9
Graves, A. and Cronin, W. V., A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, volume III, 1899, p. 1211
Mannings, D., Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art), 2000
New Description, Sir John Soane's Museum, 2007, pp.8 and 100

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