Scholars generally agree that this curious engraving represents the contemporary proverb "Idling is the pillow of the devil," a moral message against the sin of sloth. Here, a middle-aged scholar dozes before a warm stove. The devil hovers behind him and uses a fireplace bellows to kindle impure desires. Aroused by the devil’s sinful provocation, the scholar’s subconscious conjures Venus, an object of lustful temptation.
Dürer’s image explores the realm of dreams and innermost thought in association with powerful female sexuality. Like many of his other engravings of this early period, Dürer uses obscure, moralistic stories to consider the female nude both creatively and intellectually. Although aimed at a primarily cultured male audience, Dürer presents Venus as a source of desire not only for the sinful idler, but for the viewer as well.