The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

The Rape of Europa

Tizian 085

The Rape of Europa is mythological painting of the story of the abduction of Europa by Zeus (or Jupiter, the Roman name for the Greek god Zeus). It was painted by Titian ca. 1560-62.

In Greek mythology Europa (Greek: Εὐρώπη) was the mother of King Minos of Crete, a woman with Phoenician origin and after whom the continent of Europe was named. The painting depicts the story of her abduction by Zeus, who is in the form of a white bull. This myth was originally a Cretan story and many of the love-stories concerning Zeus originate from even more ancient myths describing his marriages with goddesses.

It is common in ancient Greek mythology and geography 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 in reference to 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.

Herodotus World Map

The World according to Herodotus who described it in 450 BCE

The term “Europe” is first used to describe a cultural territory, during the 9th century. The term designated the sphere of influence of the Western Church, as opposed to the Eastern Orthodox churches and to the Islamic world.

Europa Prima Pars Terrae in Forma Virginis

“Map of Europe shaped as a virgin” by Heinrich Bünting dating to 1582

The term the “The Rape of Europa” has recently been used as the title of a book and firm to describe the art theft and fate of Europe’s Art Treasures during Hitler’s Third Reich and the Second World War.

Thus in modern culture the tile of this Masterpiece, “The Rape of Europa” continues to have currency.

Essential Facts:

  • Title:                    The Rape of Europa
  • Artist:                  Titian
  • Year:                     1560-62
  • Genre:                  Mythological painting
  • Movement:         Renaissance Art in Venice
  • Type:                     Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:      178 cm × 205 cm (70 in × 81 in)
  • Museum:             Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston

Artist Essential Facts:

  • Artist:                             Titian ( Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio)
  • Born:                               1490, Pieve di Cadore, Italy
  • Died:                                1576, Venice, Italy
  • Buried:                            Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice, Italy
  • Period:                             Italian Renaissance, Renaissance
  • Notable works:
    • A Man with a Quilted Sleeve
    • Portrait of a Man in a Red Cap
    • The Adoration of the Magi
    • Bacchus and Ariadne
    • The Rape of Europa


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



Photo Credit: 1) Titian [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) Heinrich Bünting [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 3) By Cush [Public domain, Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons