Category: Greek Mythology

Thor Battering the Midgard Serpent – Henry Fuseli

Thor Battering the Midgard Serpent is a 1790 painting by the Swiss artist Henry Fuseli. It depicts one of the most popular myths in Germanic mythology, Thor’s fishing trip, which was known to Fuseli through P. H. Mallet’s 1755 book Introduction à l’histoire du Dannemarc, translated to English by Thomas Percy in 1770 as Northern Antiquities. The nude and muscular Thor stands in Hymir’s boat with the Jörmungandr on his fish hook.

The painting was Fuseli’s diploma work for his election to the British Royal Academy of Arts in 1790. The subject has been interpreted in relation to Fuseli’s support for the French Revolution, where the serpent could represent the Ancien Régime.

Source: Wikipedia

The Fall of the Titans – Cornelis van Haarlem

The Fall of the Titans is an oil painting of the Titanomachy by the Dutch painter Cornelis van Haarlem in 1588–1590. It measures 239 × 307 cm (94 × 121 in). The work is in the collection of the Statens Museum (the national art gallery) in Copenhagen, Denmark. It is an ambitious work of the Haarlem Mannerists, and a display of the artist’s ability to devise and depict a large number of varied poses for the male nudes.

In Greek mythology, the Titans were members of the second generation of divine beings, descending from the primordial deities and preceding the Olympians. Based on Mount Othrys, the Titans most famously included the first twelve children of Gaia (Mother Earth) and Uranus (Father Sky). They ruled during the legendary Golden Age, and also comprised the first pantheon of Greek deities.

Just as the Titan Cronus overthrew his father Uranus, the Titans were overthrown by Cronus’s children (Zeus, Hades, Poseidon, Hestia, Hera and Demeter), the core Olympian deities, in the Titanomachy (or “War of the Titans”), at the end of which they were imprisoned in Tartarus, a Greek version of Hell. Their arrival there is depicted in the painting.

The painting was bought by King Christian IV of Denmark in 1621, and followed most of the royal collection into public ownership in the Statens Museum in the 19th century.

Source: Wikipedia

Minos, Judge of the Damned – Gustave Doré

In Greek mythology, Minos (/ˈmaɪnɒs, -nəs/; Greek: Μίνως, Minōs) was the first King of Crete, son of Zeus and Europa. Every nine years, he made King Aegeus pick seven young boys and seven young girls to be sent to Daedalus’s creation, the labyrinth, to be eaten by the Minotaur. After his death, Minos became a judge of the dead in the underworld.

The Lament for Icarus – Herbert James Draper

The Lament for Icarus is a painting by Herbert James Draper, showing the dead Icarus, surrounded by lamenting nymphs. The wings of Icarus are based on the bird-of-paradise pattern. In 1898, the painting was bought from the Royal Academy exhibition through The Chantrey Bequest, a public fund for purchasing modern art bequeathed by Sir Francis Leggatt Chantrey, R.A.. The Lament for Icarus was subsequently awarded the gold medal at the Exposition Universelle of 1900 in Paris.

According to Dr. Justine Hopkins, Draper identifies Icarus “with the other heroes of the Pre-Raphaelites and symbolists, who, like James Dean half a century later, manage to live fast, die young and leave a beautiful corpse”. (The last half of that comment is based on a line in the 1947 novel Knock on Any Door by Willard Motley and its film adaptation.)

 The composition:

Draper’s preparatory sketch of Icarus

In 1890s Draper was focused mainly on ancient Greek mythological subjects. Frederic Leighton had depicted Icarus in 1869, but while Leighton showed the preparations for the flight, Draper depicted the tragic ending of the flight. For the composition Draper adopted Leighton’s method of depicting separate figures, for which he employed four young professional models (Ethel Gurden, Ethel Warwick, Florence Bird and Luigi di Luca).

The use of the male body as a vehicle for the projection of subjective emotion, as in The Lament for Icarus, is a feature of late-Victorian painting and sculpture, and in The Lament for Icarus the body appears to melt within the arms of one nymph. Draper applied liquid light effects without abandoning form and used mainly warm colours. The tanned skin of Icarus refers to his close approach to the Sun before falling down. The rays of the setting sun on distant cliffs emphasize the transience of time. Moralizing, sentimental and sensual, The Lament for Icarus ultimately became a well-composed image of epic failure. However, somewhat surprising, Icarus has his wings fully intact, contrary to the myth where the wax melted and Icarus fell flapping his bare arms. The image of a “winged creature” is likely utilized to create a more symbolic, romantic and elegant appearance.

Les Oréades [The Oreads] – William-Adolphe Bouguereau

The Oreads are the nymphs of mountains and grottoes (the most well known is Echo), who were said to come out in joyful, lively groups to hunt deer, chase wild boar and bring down birds of prey with their arrows. At Diana’s signal, they would come running to join her, forming a dazzling retinue behind her. The 1902 catalogue for the Salon gave this lengthy commentary after the title of the painting: “The shadows are dissipating; dawn appears, radiant, and colours the mountain tops pink. Then a long procession soars up into the sky: it is the joyful band of nymphs who, during the night, frolicked in the shadow of the forests and by the still waters of the river; they take to the air, watched by the astonished fauns, to return to their own realm and the ethereal regions inhabited by the gods”. With this painting, Bouguereau shows himself to be firmly attached to his ideal of academic painting. As in another painting at Musée d’Orsay, The Assault, the mythological subject here is a pretext to demonstrate his outstanding drawing skills, capable of capturing all the attitudes and expressions of the human body. The mythological subject also enables him to introduce an erotic element without lapsing into bawdiness (the lust in the eyes of the Satyrs is, in this respect, unambiguous). With this flight of female figures, Bouguereau boldly produced a painting that was highly imaginative and suffused with poetry, perceptible in the twilight landscape of the background, worthy of Corot, and tinged with Symbolist tones.


Saturn or Saturn Devouring His Son – Peter Paul Rubens

Saturn or Saturn Devouring His Son is a 1636 painting by the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, now in the Museo del Prado.

It was commissioned for the Torre de la Parada by Philip IV of Spain and shows the influence of Michelangelo on Rubens, which he had picked up on his journey to Italy. The three stars at the top of the painting represent the planet Saturn as described by Galileo a few years before its painting. The central star is the planet itself, whilst the two others represent what he thought were two stars aligned with the planet. In reality, these were the rings around the planet, which his telescope was not powerful enough to distinguish.

In turn, the painting influenced Goya’s painting of the same subject (1819–23).