This is the only surviving example of a female nude by Velázquez. The subject was rare in Spain because it met with the disapproval of the Church.
Venus, the goddess of love, was the most beautiful of the goddesses, and was regarded as a personification of female beauty. She is shown here with her son Cupid, who holds up a mirror for her to look both at herself and at the viewer.
'The Rokeby Venus' is first recorded in June 1651 in the collection of the Marqués del Carpio, son of the First Minister of Spain. It was probably made for the Marqués and was presumably displayed privately, thus avoiding the censure of the Spanish Inquisition. In the Carpio collection, Velázquez's painting was paired with a 16th-century Venetian picture of a naked nymph in a landscape seen from the front.
The painting is known as 'The Rokeby Venus' because it was in the Morritt Collection at Rokeby Hall in Yorkshire before its acquisition by the Gallery.