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“The Rape of Europa” by Paolo Veronese

"The Rape of Europa" by Paolo Veronese

“The Rape of Europa” by Paolo Veronese

“The Rape of Europa” by Paolo Veronese is a mythological painting of the story of the abduction of Europa by Zeus, a Greek god. The painting depicts the story of her kidnapping by Zeus, who is in the form of a white bull. In the myth, the bull rode into the sea and carried her to Crete, where he revealed his real identity to her. Europa became the first Queen of Crete and had three children with Zeus. In Greek mythology, Europa was the mother of King Minos of Crete, a woman with Phoenician origins, after whom the continent of Europe was named. This myth has initially been a Cretan story, and many of the love-stories on Zeus originate from even more ancient myths describing his marriages with multiple goddesses.

In ancient Greek geography, it was common practice to identify geographic landmarks such as specific lands, islands or rivers with famous female figures. In this way, Europa was first used in a geographic context in a Homeric Hymn about the western shore of the Aegean Sea. Since then, the concept has evolved as different eras looked for suitable terms to define the world map into coherent segments. The term “Europe” was first used to describe a specific cultural territory during the 9th century. The name designated to the sphere of influence of the Western Church, as opposed to the Eastern Orthodox world and the Islamic world.

In Veronese’s interpretation of this story, Europa is depicted partial undress, with her yellow mantle and belt lying on the ground. A cupid ties a garland of flowers around the bull’s horns, while the bull impatiently licks the Europa’s foot. Her handmaids are helping her onto the bull’s back. 

Paolo Veronese

The artist of this painting, Paolo Veronese, was an Italian Renaissance painter, based in Venice, known for large-format history paintings of religion and mythology. His most famous works are narrative cycles, executed in a dramatic and colourful style, full of architectural settings and pageantry. His large paintings of biblical feasts were painted for the refectories of monasteries in Venice and Verona as well as palatial ceilings. Most of these works have remained in their original setting, and many of the greatest artists have long admired his work.

The Rape of Europa

  • Title:                  The Rape of Europa
  • Artist:                Paolo Veronese
  • Year:                  1570
  • Genre:                Mythological painting
  • Movement:        Renaissance Art in Venice
  • Type:                  Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:      59.5 cm (23.4 in); Width: 70 cm (27.5 in)
  • Museum:          The National Gallery, London

Paolo Veronese

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“Tears come from the heart and not from the brain.”
– Leonardo da Vinci

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Photo Credit: 1) Paolo Veronese [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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