Exercise: Study some mythological subjects

Choose two or three paintings of a mythological subject and research the story behind these paintings.  Where did the story originate, for example?

Think about how the myths you’ve chosen could be harnessed to promote Christian values.

Find two paintings by different artists that represent the same mythological story and make notes in your learning log on the similarities and differences between them.  Think about why the two artists may have made the different artistic choices that they did. Do some drawings and sketches in your learning log. (course notes p82)

Diana and Callisto

The tragic story of the nymph Callisto is represented time and again in art. The names of the Greek and Roman gods and goddesses seem interchangeable but the myth remains relatively the same and is well known from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Callisto (Kallisto) is a favourite of Artemis (Diana), chaste goddess of the hunt. The girls who follow her have also taken a vow of virginity. The god Zeus (Jupiter), catches sight of Callisto’s beauty, disguises himself as Diana to approach her closely and then rapes her. She becomes pregnant and manages somehow to hide her pregnancy from the other girls in Diana’s entourage. She is found out when she is forced to strip when bathing after hunting. She is expelled from Diana’s chaste group and forced to go it alone (although in this reference from the National Gallery, Diana sets her dogs on her but Jupiter rescues her). She gives birth to a son, Arcas (meaning bear). As if this isn’t enough, Juno (Hera), jealous wife of Zeus turns Callisto into a bear so the hunter becomes the hunted. Some years later she sees her son and forgetting she is a bear goes to him and he tries to kill her (because she’s a scary great bear)! Jupiter steps in to avert that and raises her to the heavens to be “the Great Bear” constellation Ursa Major. He puts Arcas there too as the little bear Ursa Minor. Juno is cross that her plan for revenge failed so she appeals to Oceanus to never let them dip into the ocean at the horizon to have a drink.

“The stars of Ursa Major were all circumpolar in Athens of 400 BCE, and all but the stars in the Great Bear’s left foot were circumpolar in Ovid’s Rome, in the first century CE. Now, however, due to the precession of the equinoxes, the feet of the Great Bear constellation do sink below the horizon from Rome and especially from Athens; however, Ursa Minor (Arcas) does remain completely above the horizon, even from latitudes as far south as Honolulu and Hong Kong.” (Wikipedia: Callisto (mythology), 2016)

 

Here are two different interpretations of that story from the 16th and 17th century, specifically the scene at which Diana finds out that her favourite nymph is pregnant and has broken her vow of chastity.

Diana and Callisto 1556-9, Titian © The National Gallery London / The National Galleries of Scotland https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/titian-diana-and-callisto
Diana and Callisto 1556-9, Titian
© The National Gallery London / The National Galleries of Scotland
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/titian-diana-and-callisto

“Titian chose to paint the moment of her humiliating exposure and banishment from Diana’s chaste entourage.” (National Gallery, 2016b)

 

Paul Bril, about 1554 - 1626 Diana and Callisto probably 1620s Oil on wood, 49.5 x 72.4 cm Sir Claude Phillips Bequest, 1924 NG4029 http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG4029
Paul Bril, about 1554 – 1626
Diana and Callisto
probably 1620s
Oil on wood, 49.5 x 72.4 cm
Sir Claude Phillips Bequest, 1924
NG4029
http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/NG4029

 

The two artists have treated the same scene very differently.

Titian’s image is close up, in the action. An accusing finger is pointed at a tearstained girl (who barely looks pregnant, certainly not 9 months) and the other girls barely look bothered. The scene is sumptuous and full of nakedness. The goddess is the same as size as all the other figures.

Bril’s image is ostensibly a landscape with a rather frightening fracas going on by the stream. There are a group of figures cowering in the light in the bottom third of the image. The goddess is out of frame on the right passing judgment (assuming this is the source of the light). This scene is not really about the nakedness (even though there is some).

todo finish writing about them

References:

Glover, M. (2012) ‘Great Works: Diana and Callisto, 1556-59 (188cm x 206cm), Titian’ In: The Independant [online] At: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/great-works/great-works-diana-and-callisto-1556-59-188cm-x-206cm-titian-7621910.html
(Accessed on 28 June 16)

King, H. (2012) Diana, Callisto and Philip II At: http://www.wondersandmarvels.com/2012/08/diana-and-callisto.html
(Accessed on 28 June 16)

National Gallery. (2016a) Paul Bril – Diana and Callisto At: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/paul-bril-diana-and-callisto
(Accessed on 28 June 16)

National Gallery. (2016b) Titian – Diana and Callisto At: https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/titian-diana-and-callisto
(Accessed on 28 June 16)

Wikipedia: Callisto (mythology). (2016) Callisto (mythology) At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Callisto_(mythology)
(Accessed on 28 June 16)

 

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