Around 1546, Bronzino was commissioned to create a painting which has come to be known as Venus, Cupid, Folly, and Time. It displays the ambivalence, eroticism and obscure imagery which is characteristic of the Mannerist period, and of Bronzino's master Pontormo.
The painting may have been commissioned by Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany or by Francesco Salviati, to be presented by him as a gift to Francis I of France. Vasari wrote that it was sent to King Francis, though he does not specify by whom. The erotic imagery would have appealed to the tastes prevalent in both the Medici and French courts at this time. The attention to texture and wealth is also consistent with Bronzino's aristocratic patronage. The figure of Venus can be likened to a precious object (such as a marble statue) in a luxurious setting, desirable because of her unavailability.
Crowded into the claustrophobic foreground of the painting are several figures whose identities have been the subject of extensive scholarly debate. The themes of the painting appear to be lust, deceit, and jealousy. At times it has also been called A Triumph of Venus. Its meaning, however, remains elusive. Cupid, along with his mother Venus and the nude putto to the right, are all posed in a typical Mannerist figura serpentinata form.