Three Poems for Velazquez’s Rokeby Venus

By Staff Writer Laura Mueller

The Rokeby Venus, or Venus at her Toilet, was painted by Velazquez from 1647-1651. The painting was vandalized in 1914 by Mary Richardson, a suffragette enraged by the arrest of fellow protester, Emmeline Pankhurst. It is the only surviving female nude by Velazquez.


It’s 1914 and Mary Richardson is attacking the Rokeby Venus with a meat cleaver.

        There’s something cathartic in destruction.  

         A reaction to the arrest of a fellow suffragette.

         When art becomes gender discrimination,

         that’s when Mary feels the need to create chaos.


It’s 1915 and Helmut Ruhemann is patching up the Venus with unchangeable optimism.

            It’s important to remain lighthearted,

            especially in the face of tragedy.

            When art becomes broken,

             that’s when Helmut slaps his gloves on and starts to smile.


It’s 2015 and Velazquez isn’t bothered by the violence of the act,

            just how easy it is to repair.

            an X-ray, some stitches and all better.

            When art becomes a medical profession,

that’s when Diego starts to worry.



Venus is at her toilet, singing some tune under her breath.

She’s getting ready for the play on Olympus, another evening

of ambrosia, honey wine, and the whispers of candlelight. 

Venus is at her toilet, helped by her son Cupid.

A retreat before the evening, an escape from the dusk of reality.

Ribbons of blue, ribbons of pink, silk and lace and skin.


Venus is waiting backstage. The play is about to go on,

the one full of the beautiful, of the divine. Three millennia

of rehearsal, of an adoring audience, of standing ovations.

Every night is a sold out show to the believers, all hoping

for a glimpse at the face of love, of fertility, of beauty.

The velvet curtain is drawn, the room holds its breath.


Venus is distracted when she hears a knock on her door.

It isn’t showtime yet, it isn’t anything important, it couldn’t be.

What exists to bother a God? And yet, when the first blow

strikes, Venus, sitting at her toilet, doesn’t flinch. Seven slashes later,

and Venus is beginning to understand how it feels to become an angel.

A scarring of the skin, of the muscle, of bone.


Venus is sitting at her toilet, crying. The play is cancelled,

the tickets non-refundable. Crying not from pain, but

remembrance. Of being under the meat cleaver,

under the pallet knife, under the brush. Of what it means

to be an invalid and not a star. Fluorescent bulbs

pop and fizz. Venus is at her toilet, and she is crying.


Alongside fear, there is a freedom in the thought

of never being adored again.





We must not let the female body appear like this.

Yet how beautiful the mythology of her anatomy.

We must destroy that which is obscene, unholy. 

Art is godliness. Destruction of it: heresy.


We must not adore idols. It creates distracted prayers.

Retaining focus on anything is valuable. Retaining focus on

art is invaluable.

We must not encourage narcissism. Sins of mirrors, sins of self. 

Self-reflection is helpful in moderation.

We should not idolize that which is simply beautiful.

Why not?