Colette Calascione - Leda and the Swan
Today’s Classic: Leda and the Swan
1. By Leonardo Da Vinci (1510)
2. By Nicolas Kalmakoff (1917)
3. By Peter Paul Rubens (1600)
4. By Francois Boucher (18th. Century)
5. By Paolo Veronese (date unknown)
The Three Beggars:
Leda and the Swan is a story and subject in art from Greek mythology in which the god Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces, or rapes, Leda. According to later Greek mythology, Leda bore Helen and Polydeuces, children of Zeus, while at the same time bearing Castor and Clytemnestra, children of her husband Tyndareus, the King of Sparta. In the W.B. Yeats version, it is subtly suggested that Clytemnestra, although being the daughter of Tyndareus, has somehow been traumatized by what the swan has done to her mother (see below). According to many versions of the story, Zeus took the form of a swan and raped or seduced Leda on the same night she slept with her husband King Tyndareus. In some versions, she laid two eggs from which the children hatched. In other versions, Helen is a daughter of Nemesis, the goddess who personified the disaster that awaited those suffering from the pride of Hubris.
The subject was rarely seen in the large-scale sculpture of antiquity, although a representation of Leda in sculpture has been attributed in modern times to Timotheos (compare illustration, below left); small-scale sculptures survive showing both reclining and standing poses, in cameos and engraved gems, rings, and terracotta oil lamps. Thanks to the literary renditions of Ovid and Fulgentius it was a well-known myth through the Middle Ages, but emerged more prominently as a classicizing theme, with erotic overtones, in the Italian Renaissance.
The Judgement of Paris
- Lucas Cranach the Elder - 1528
- Lucas Cranach the Elder - 1530
- Lucas Cranach the Elder - 1530
- Lucas Cranach the Elder - 1531
- Paul Gauguin - 1902
- Harald Giersing - 1909
- Joseph Hauber - 1819
- Raphael - 1512
- Peter Paul Rubens - 1630
- Ivo Saliger - 1939
It is recounted that Zeus held a banquet in celebration of the marriage of Peleus and Thetis (parents of Achilles). However, Eris, goddess of discord was not invited, for she would have made the party unpleasant for everyone. Angered by this snub, Eris arrived at the celebration with a golden apple from the Garden of the Hesperides, which she threw into the proceedings, upon which was the inscription καλλίστῃ (kallistēi, “for the fairest one”).
Three goddesses claimed the apple: Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. They asked Zeus to judge which of them was fairest, and eventually he, reluctant to favour any claim himself, declared that Paris, a Trojan mortal, would judge their cases, for he had recently shown his exemplary fairness in a contest in which Ares in bull form had bested Paris’s own prize bull, and the shepherd-prince had unhesitatingly awarded the prize to the god.
Thus it happened that, with Hermes as their guide, the three candidates bathed in the spring of Ida, then confronted Paris on Mount Ida in the climactic moment that is the crux of the tale. While Paris inspected them, each attempted with her powers to bribe him; Hera offered to make him king of Europe and Asia, Athena offered wisdom and skill in war, and Aphrodite, who had the Charites and the Horai to enhance her charms with flowers and song, offered the world’s most beautiful woman. This was Helen of Sparta, wife of the Greek king Menelaus. Paris accepted Aphrodite’s gift and awarded the apple to her, receiving Helen as well as the enmity of the Greeks and especially of Hera. The Greeks’ expedition to retrieve Helen from Paris in Troy is the mythological basis of the Trojan War.
The myth of the Judgement of Paris naturally offered artists the opportunity to depict a sort of beauty contest between three beautiful female nudes, but the myth, at least since Euripides, rather concerns a choice among the gifts that each goddess embodies. The bribery involved is ironic and a late ingredient.
According to a tradition suggested by Alfred J. Van Windekens, objectively, “cow-eyed” Hera was indeed the most beautiful, not Aphrodite. However, Hera was the goddess of the marital order and of cuckolded wives, amongst other things. She was often portrayed as the shrewish, jealous wife of Zeus, who himself often escaped from her controlling ways by cheating on her with other women, mortal and immortal. She had fidelity and chastity in mind and was careful to be modest when Paris was inspecting her. Aphrodite, though not as objectively beautiful as Hera, was the goddess of sexuality, and was effortlessly more sexual and charming before him. Thus, she was able to sway Paris into judging her the fairest. Athena’s beauty is rarely commented in the myths, perhaps because Greeks held her up as an asexual being, being able to “overcome” her “womanly weaknesses” in order to become both wise and talented in war (both considered male domains by the Greeks). Her rage at losing makes her join the Greeks in the battle against Paris’ Trojans, a key event in the turning point of the war.
Vlaho Bukovac - Andromeda
The Three Beggars:
In Greek mythology, Andromeda is the daughter of Cepheus, an Aethiopian king, and Cassiopeia. When Cassiopeia’s hubris leads her to boast that Andromeda is more beautiful than the Nereids, Poseidon, influenced by Hades sends a sea monster, Cetus, to ravage Aethiopia as divine punishment. Andromeda is chained to a rock as a sacrifice to sate the monster, but is saved from death by Perseus.
As a subject, Andromeda has been popular in art since classical times; it is one of several Greek myths of a Greek hero's rescue of the intended victim of an archaic Hieros gamos (sacred marriage), giving rise to the “princess and dragon" motif. From the Renaissance, interest revived in the original story, typically as derived from Ovid's account.
Theodore Chasseriau - Andromeda chained to the Rock by the Nereids 1840
Rembrandt - Andromeda 1630
Edward Poynter - Andromeda 1869
Peter Paul Rubens, Details from The Death of Adonis with Venus, Cupid, and the Three Graces (c. 1614)
The Three Beggars:
‘She warned him, and made her way through the air, drawn by harnessed swans, but his courage defied the warning. By chance, his dogs, following a well-marked trail, roused a wild boar from its lair, and as it prepared to rush from the trees, Cinyras’s grandson caught it a glancing blow. Immediately the fierce boar dislodged the blood-stained spear, with its crooked snout, and chased the youth, who was scared and running hard. It sank its tusk into his groin, and flung him, dying, on the yellow sand.
Cytherea, carried in her light chariot through the midst of the heavens, by her swans’ swiftness, had not yet reached Cyprus: she heard from afar the groans of the dying boy, and turned the white birds towards him. When, from the heights, she saw the lifeless body, lying in its own blood, she leapt down, tearing her clothes, and tearing at her hair, as well, and beat at her breasts with fierce hands, complaining to the fates. “And yet not everything is in your power” she said. “Adonis, there shall be an everlasting token of my grief, and every year an imitation of your death will complete a re-enactment of my mourning. But your blood will be changed into a flower. Persephone, you were allowed to alter a woman’s body, Menthe’s, to fragrant mint: shall the transformation of my hero, of the blood of Cinyras, be grudged to me?” So saying, she sprinkled the blood with odorous nectar: and, at the touch, it swelled up, as bubbles emerge in yellow mud. In less than an hour, a flower, of the colour of blood, was created such as pomegranates carry, that hide their seeds under a tough rind. But enjoyment of it is brief; for, lightly clinging, and too easily fallen, the winds deflower it, which are likewise responsible for its name, windflower: anemone.