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- Titian (Vecellio Tiziano)
- "Bacchus and Ariadne"
- 1520-1523, National Gallery, London
Bacchus emerges with his followers from the landscape to the right. Falling in love with Ariadne on sight, he leaps from his chariot, drawn by two cheetahs, towards her. Ariadne had been abandoned on the Greek island of Naxos by Theseus, whose ship recedes under white sail in the distance. The picture shows Ariadne's initial fear of Bacchus, but he promises to her to heaven and turned her into a constellation, the Corona Borealis, represented by the stars above her head. The maenads and other followers demonstrate the abandoned emotions of their retinue.
The extraordinarily costly painting--the brilliant blues and crimsons are made with ground semi-precious stone--was commissioned for the Camerino d'Alabastro, (Alabaster Room) in the Ducal Palace by Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. Titian did a series in the palace called "The Ferrara Bacchanals." This painting was in fact a substitute for one with a similar subject which the Duke had commissioned from Raphael.
- "The Rape of Europa"
- Gardner Museum, Boston
Titian is responsible for the first painting of this scene, which he clearly and fully derives from Ovid's Metamorphoses. The painting was copied several times, both by Titian himself and his successors.
Europa became enamored with a particular bull in the herd which Zeus had bidden Hermes to drive her way, as she played with her friends on the seashore. The god's handsomeness, though cloaked in bovine features, drew the girl to closer intimacy until she mounted his back and rode him into the waves. The abduction resulted in Europa's conceiving and bearing illustrious children on the island of Crete--Minos, Rhadmanthys, and Sarpedon. She was later worshipped in Crete as a goddess. This bull became the constellation Taurus.
- D. Velazquez
- "Las Hilanderas" or "The Tapestry Weavers"
- Prado, Madrid
The painting is also called "The Fable of Arachne" because it tells the story of her weaving contest with Athena.
This complex painting tells the story of the rape of Europa (inset tapestry), Minerva's judgment of Arachne (in the next room), and Minerva's visit to the daughters of Idmon (in the foreground). Does the old lady with the shapely leg in the foreground represent Minerva?
The whole episode is told in Ovid Metamorphoses. Velazquez certainly knew the story in Ovid's version.
The inset Rape of Europa is a cunning replica of Titian's "Rape of Europa" from about a century earlier, a key holding in the Spanish royal collection for which Velazquez himself was curator.
- Varvakeion Athena
- 2nd century Roman-period replica of Athena Parthenos
The Varvakeion Athena is a miniature replica of the chryselephantine Athena Parthenos by Phidias, which was housed in the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis.
The original was some 40+ feet tall, and dismantled in antiquity. The original was created in the 440's BC; this replica was crafted in the 2nd century AD. Athena extends in her left hand a winged Nike (Victory). Her aegis bears the image of Medusa.
Her helmet has the temple-pieces upturned to show that she is returning from war in peace.
Her left hand supports a shield which protects the writhing snake (a reference to Erichtonius and Athenian origins).
Homeric Hymn: she protects the people
- Athena and Heracles in a red-figure kylix
- 475 BC
- Douris Painter, Munich Staatliche Antikensammlung
- Athena is readily recognized by standard iconography
- Her owl
- Her aegis
- Her helmet and spear
- Heracles is readily recognized by standard iconography
- Lion's skin
- youthful heroism
- Athena's chief role here:
- nourishing the civilizer (Heracles), who rests from his Lavors under the shape of a grape arbor
- Peter Paul Rubens
- "The Judgement of Paris"
- National Gallery London
Paris offers the Apple of Discord to Aphrodite, even as Athena and Hera offer their most persuasive arguments for his reward in the divine beauty contest.
Athena has removed her weapons of defense; Hera's peacock is menacing the sleeping dog; Eros handles Aphrodite's discarded clothing; and Hermes looks on in rapt attention (note petasus and caduceus). Note the brewing storm-cloud: The Trojan War is in the offing.
- J. Ewoutsz (Hans Eworth)
- "Queen Elizabeth Confounding Juno, Minerva, and Venus"
- British Royal Collection
Elizabeth steps into the midst of the three goddesses who typically await the Judgment of Paris. To their surprise, Elizabeth already holds the orb. Ewoutsz uses the conventional iconography of the scene to turn a witty new interpretation: Elizabeth has everything the others have. In 1569, the "virgin queen" was in her mid-30's and had been the English sovereign for a decade. Ewoutsz, a Flemish painter who survives in about 40 paintings, executed portraits of both Elizabeth and Mary in his later career.
- Cesare Da Sesto
- "Leda and the Swan"
- Wilton House Collection
Zeus disguises himself as a swan to seduce the wife of Tyndareus, Leda.
Sparta, where Tyndareus rules as king, is in the background.
In a conflation of time, the sinuous seducer and the gamboling offspring and simultaneously present.
The offspring of this union are Dioscuri, Clytemnestra, and Helen.
Some sources state that Helen and Polydeuces were Zeus'. and that Castor and Clytemnestra were Tyndareus' children of the swan.
- J.-A.-D Ingres
- "Jupiter and Thetis"
- Musee Granet, France
Standard Jovian iconography is seen throughout, with the eagle and scepter, especially apparent. Zeus rests his arm on a cloudbank. The throne has a frieze showing Zeus himslef weilding a thunderbolt in the Gigantomachy. Hera is interested in the scene, rear left. Ingres clearly has the Phidian Zeus in his mind as he sets the scene.
- Giorgio de Chirico
- "Hector and Andromache"
- Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome, Italy
Astyanax gives Hector and Andromache something to worry about at their last farewell.
De Chirico interlaced his career around this surrealistic grouping, with many depictions of Hector as geometric mannequin, in paintings and sculptures and other media.
- Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo
- "The Procession of the Trojan Horse into Troy"
The artist's attention to detail makes it fairly clear that he is illustrated the classic account from Vergil Aeneid 2. Except, Vergil's Horse is clearly made of wood. In spite of Laocoon's insistence against it--and because of Neptune's violent silencing of Laocoon's opposition--the Trojans put wheels under the horse, which is clearly marked in the painting with the latin inscription, "an offering to Pallas (Athena)" and led it into Troy by way of the breeched walls.
- "Scenes from the Odyssey"
- National Gallery, London
Penelope weaves at her loom, anchoring the female side of the composition, as Telemachus strides into her space. Over Telemachus' left shoulder, three suitors and the disguised Odysseus (in the doorway) strike various poses. Penelope's ultimate weapon, the test of the bow, hangs on the wall behind her.
The vignettes over Telemechus' right shoulder depict Odysseus and the Sirens, Odysseus and Circe, and the swine of Circe.
- Gustave Moreau
- "Oedipus and the Sphinx"
- Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
The Sphinx inhabited a mountain west of Cadmeia (old Thebes) and tormented the Cadmeans until she met her match in Oedipus--in some versions he answers her riddle, causing her to commit suicide, in others he kills her outright.
- Exekias, black figure kylix
- 530 BC
- Munich, Staatliche Antikensammlung
Dionysus in a ship has just transformed himslef from the meek captive into the mighty divinity that he is. Frightened pirates who had abducted the young Dionysus have just now jumped overboard and experienced their own transformation, into dolphins. The powerful god's association with viticulture is represented by the vine rising from his loins, running up the mast, and clustering in grapes over the ship.
The painting inside this cup is important, historically, for offering the earliest depiction of a realistic Greek ship under sail. For literary history, the image supports the text of the Homeric Hymn to Dionysus.
- Pierre Mignard
- "The Marquise de Seignelay and Two of Her Children"
- British National Gallery
An aristocratic widow goes shopping for a husband. She touts the potential of her children, but she's got something to offer as well: the pigments themselves are extraordinarily costly.
- F. Goya y Lucientes
- "Saturn Devouring One of His Children"
Those eyes reflect the gruesome aspect of Hesiod's Cronus, a tyrant driven to bloodthirst by absolute power and fear of deposition.
The youngest of the Titans, Cronus was said by Hesiod to be the most terrible: he deposed his father and released his siblings from inside their mother.
Faced with the prophecy that one of his children would dethrone him, he resorts to this.
- Zeus of Artemesium
- ca. 460 BC
- National Archaeological Museum, Athens
Some debate continues re: the identity of this majestic bronze. If you imagine a trident in the right hand, the god is Poseidon; Zeus would hold a thunderbolt. The gods, brothers who divided the world, seem identical if their attributes are removed.
The bronze was snagged in 1928 by fishermen's nets in the sea off the Cape of Artemesium in Greece, where it had been lost in an ancient shipwreck. Had the bronze been preserved on land, it would likely have been molten for secondary use long ago.
a drawing of an ancient coin that shows the form of Olympian Zeus by Phidias
The city of Elis, in the western Peloponnesus, minted this coin to show off their support of the Zeus sanctuary at Olympia.
Phidias (the famous Athenian sculptor, c. 465-425 BC) crafted the 42-foot-high chryselephantine (gold and ivory) sculpture of the seated Zeus for the Zeus Temple at Olympia.
The cult statue has long since disappeared, likely dismantled for its precious materials; however, ancient descriptions and numerous depictions inform us of its appearance.
For this work and for his Athena Parthenos, Phidias was regarded as the greatest artist of his day.
- Horatio Greenough
- "George Washington (as Phidian Zeus)"
Phidias crafted the colossal chryselephantine image of Zeus for his sanctuary at Elis
House of Reps resolved to authorize commissioning of a marble Washington for the Capitol rotunda
Edward Everett in 1832 advised Greenough to model his Washington on Phidias' Zeus.
Pausanias described the ancient sculpture in his description of Elis.
Apollo driving the new sun and an infant Hercules flank the divine seat.
- S. Botticelli
- "The Birth of Venus"
Uffizi, Florence, 1.72x2.77 m a very large canvas
Venus comes ashore on the island of Cyprus, born from sea-foam, as Hesiod describes in Theogony.
An important representative of the Florentine Renaissance, Botticelli here depicts Venus in an idealized form drawn from classical sculpture.
Ancient Roman wall painting showed Venus standing in a seashell, but Plato and Hesiod (Greeks) also stand behind the ideas represented in this remarkable painting.
- Gustav Moreau
Prometheus in defiance
"See what I, a god, suffer at the hands of the gods"
"I stopped mortals from foreseeing their fate...I planted in them blind hopes...And besides I gave them fire."
Prometheus knows the secret to Zeus' undoing: Thetis is destined to bear a son who is mightier than his father.
- Paul Manship
- "Prometheus Stealing Fire"
- Rockefeller Plaza, New York City
Hesiod tells how Prometheus stole fire in a hollow fennel stalk, diminishing Zeus' power by conveying to mortals the gift that leads to civilization, fire.
The caption by Aeschylus states "Prometheus, teacher in every art, brought the fire that hath proved to mortals a means to mighty deeds." The gilt bronze masterpiece flies across the ring of the zodiacal constellations.
Dominating Rockefeller Plaza at the base of the RCA Building (aka 30 Rock), Manship's Prometheus has become an American icon, a symbol of American industrial dynamism.
- Sandro Botticelli
- "Mars and Venus"
- ca. 1485
- National Gallery NG 915
Venus and Mars seem like opposites. Especially here. Perhaps their opposite natures make them an ideal couple. Her alert posture contrasts fully with Mars's lassitude. Omnia vincit amor "Love conquers all" even the god of war himself. The playful satyrs can't even awaken the bloodthirsty god who is now utterly disarmed
Judging by the size and theme of this lovely painting, it is thought to have been a headboard or the front panel of a wedding trouseau. The marital theme trumps the martial role of Mars.
The bard Demodocus in Odyssey 8 tells the most enduring story of the day Hephaestus caught his wife with Ares and all the gods came to see. The planets Venus and Mars have long been known to interact celestially.
- Artemis of Ephesus
- 1st Century AD
- Roman copy of the cult figure at Ephesus
Perfect image for discussing Artemis as "Potnia Theron" (Greek for mistress of beasts)
This goddess is essentially an Earth Mother, for bounty comes from her.
Her breast is festooned with acorn clusters and the disk of the zodiac.
The head-dress in this copy is not as clearly a "mural" crown as in other copies.
Her lower and upper anatomy is adorned with beasts of the earth.
Her abdomen is burdened with curious shapes, taken by some to represent eggs or testicles or breasts. Any of these interpretations connects her easily and readily to the nourishment of the earth's animal offspring.
- Vecellio Tiziano (Titian)
- "Death of Actaeon"
- ca. 1565
- London, National Gallery
As so many of Titian's great paintings, this follows the account in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Actaeon unwittingly came upon Artemis and her nymphs bathing in the woods. Because she was offended by his seeing her naked, Artemis transformed Acteaeon into a stag and compelled his own hunting dogs to hunt him. Here she inflicts a mortal wound with her arrow, but not before the half-stag Actaeon is assailed by his vicious dogs.
- Apollo Belvedere
- Roman copy (ca. 130 AD)
- of 4th century Greek bronze
The "far-darting" god who "strikes from afar" held bow in left hand; an arrow in his right?
Has he just now slain the Python?
Radiant, youthful, noble purity, top-knot
- Gian Lorenzo Bernini
- "Apollo and Daphne"
- ca. 1624
- Rome, Galleria Borghese
Bernini depicts Ovid's famous version of Apollo's pursuit of Daphne in Metamorphoses
"Apollo saw her, lover her, wanted her--her for his bride, and wanting, hoped--deceived by his own oracles"
The angle of this picture depicts Apollo in motion pursuing Daphne in the exact moment that she is being transformed into a tree.
"Scarce had she made her prayer when through her limbs a dragging languor spread, her tender bosom was wrapped in thin smooth bark, her slender arms were changed to branches and her hair to leaves; her feat but now so swift were anchored fast in numb swift roots, her fact and head became the crown of a green tree, all that remained of Daphne was her shining loveliness."
- Giovanni da Bologna
Mercury is balancing on one foot pointing towards Zeus, the one who sent him.
Bologna is showing all of the classical attributes of Hermes. The winged sandals, the traveler's hat, the caduceus, the gesture of Zeus's messenger.
- Hermes with the Infant Dionysus
- mid 4th century BC
Mythological: Hermes is entrusted with the challenging task of recovering the infant Dionysus from the thigh of Zeus for delivery to the nymphs who will raise him.
- Derveni Crater
- 4th century BC
- Anonymous artist
Scene of Baccanalia, or people caught up in Dionysiac frenzy: maenads, satyrs, panthers, lions, grapes.
Sequence of males and females that goes all around the urn include also Dionysus himself and Ariandne
People are dancing and enjoying the effects of Dionysus
Gilt bronze masterpiece was found in a tomb at Dervini outside Thessoliniki, Greece in 1864.
The term crater refers to a vessel holding wine, but this one was probably only used in a ceremonial way.
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