According to an early biographer, one of Caravaggio's aims was to discredit critics who claimed that he had no grasp of perspective. The three figures demonstrate the most dramatic foreshortening imaginable. They contradict claims that Caravaggio always painted from live models. The artist seems to have used his own face for all three gods.
The painting was done for Caravaggio's patron Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte and painted on the ceiling of the cardinal's garden casino of his country estate, which later became known as the Villa Ludovisi. The cardinal had a keen interest alchemy. Caravaggio has painted an allegory of the alchemical triad of Paracelsus: Jupiter stands for sulphur and air, Neptune for mercury and water, and Pluto for salt and earth. Each figure is identified by his beast: Jupiter by the eagle, Neptune by the hippocamp, and Pluto by the three-headed dog Cerberus. Jupiter is reaching out to move the celestial sphere in which the Sun revolves around the Earth. Galileo was a friend of Del Monte but had yet to make his mark on cosmology.
The Villa Aurora is private property in the hands of the Ludovisi family and can be visited upon request.
Del Monte sold the Villa Ludovisi and its extensive grounds to Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi in 1621. Due to the Ludovisi's family financial duress, the whole park was sold off in the 1880s and built up with hotels and expensive houses, including palazzi for members of the family. The facade of the main casino or Casino Grande (a separate building) is now hidden behind the 19th-century Palazzo Margherita. This building was acquired by the Italian State and became the residence of Queen Mother Margherita. It now houses the U.S. embassy.
The only part not sold was the Villa Aurora, which remains in the possession of the Ludovisi family, encircled by high walls and open to the public on written request. Apart from the works by Caravaggio and Guercino, it contains important works of art by Pomarancio, Michelangelo, and a collection of Roman and Greek artefacts.
The museum was founded by the couple Maarten and Reina van Bommel-van Dam, who started collecting modern art after the Second World War. Maarten van Bommel was a banker and artlover. In 1969, the house in Amsterdam, belonging to the couple became too small. For this reason they decided to donate the entire collection of about 1,200 paintings, drawings, etchings and lithographs to the Municipality of Venlo, under one condition, which consisted of the creation of a museum in a building connected to a private house, where the couple could live. This museum named after them was opened in 1971.
It shows the artworks that pleased them and they did not try to concentrate in one direction or the other. Typical for the collection is the personal liking of an object or an interest in its material, a certain coloring or in its provenance. For instance they often collected ethnological art. But it could very well be that their eye fell on an abstract canvas of Kees van Bohemen or a woodcut of Hokusai.
They were the first private collectors to buy work from local artists from Limburg like Ger Lataster and Aad de Haas. In the 1950s and 1960s works of Melle, Armando, Edgar Fernhout and Jan Schoonhoven were added; the art of Shinkichi Tajiri, Karel Appel, Gerrit Benner, Eugne Brands, Constant Nieuwenhuys, Guillaume Cornelis van Beverloo, Jaap Nanninga, Lucebert, Anton Rooskens en Theo Wolvekamp stand out by the fact that these artworks represent early periods. The same can be said about Rudi Bierman, Herbert Fiedler en Arie Kater; Bram Bogart, Wim de Haan, Anton Heyboer en Jaap Wagemaker. Later acquisitions of the CoBrA movement were made, as well as of informal art or material art. Maarten van Bommel died in 1991. His wife Reina van Dam, born in Voorthuizen on 31 December 1910, died on 29 July 2008 at the age of 97.