Greek Mythology in Art: Scenes That Have Inspired Artists (Part II)
Many Greek and Roman mythology characters have been depicted in art throughout the ages, and these characters often hold great significance in ancient and modern cultures. Some of these figures are more well-known than others, but all offer a fascinating glimpse into the fantastic and magical world of mythology
Many characters from Greek and Roman mythology have been depicted in art throughout the ages, and these characters often hold great significance in ancient and modern cultures. Some of these figures are more well-known than others, but all offer a fascinating glimpse into the fantastic and magical world of mythology. This blog post will examine some Greek and Roman mythology characters and show how they are portrayed in art over the years.
Who Were Venus and Cupid?
Venus and Cupid (Sleeping Venus) is a painting by Artemisia Gentileschi c. 1625. Artemisia Gentileschi was an Italian Baroque painter who was heavily influenced by Caravaggio. She was one of the most accomplished artists of the seventeenth century and produced professional work at 15 years old.
Her painting, Venus and Cupid (Sleeping Venus), shows a sleeping, nude Venus, reclining on an ultramarine-coloured bed on top of a crimson and gold pillow. Her only garment is a delicate sash wrapped around her arm and thigh. Her son, Cupid, watches her adoringly and fans her with peacock feathers. Gentileschi painted the blue bedsheets using lapis lazuli, an expensive material to acquire, so experts believe a wealthy patron likely commissioned this painting. (Read our blog post about lapis lazuli and other interesting paint ingredients.)
Cupid (Roman) and Eros (Greek) is the god of love. Most stories describe his parents as Venus, the goddess of love, and Mars, the god of war. Eros is depicted in Classical Greek art as a slender, handsome youth. Later in the Hellenistic period, he is described as a plump and playful child. He influences the emotions of gods and mortals with his bow and a quiver filled with arrows. If you're pierced by one of his arrows, beware! His golden arrows produce desire, and his leaden arrows cause disgust.
Who Was the Goddess Ceres?
Ceres (Roman) or Demeter (Greek) was the goddess of agriculture, fertility, grains, the harvest, motherhood, the earth, and cultivated crops. She was responsible for discovering spelt wheat, ploughing and the yoking of oxen, and bringing the gift of agriculture to humankind. She was also in charge of the laws for the common folk and her laws decided the system of settled, lawful, civilised life.
A well-known story describes her desperately wandering the world looking for her daughter Proserpina (Roman), or Persephone (Greek), who the god of the underworld has kidnapped. During her search, the world plunges into darkness, and crops fail. Eventually, her daughter is allowed to return to the surface for six months of the year but must spend six months underground. When mother and daughter are reunited, the sun shines and crops flourish, but when Proserpina returns to the underworld, Ceres' sadness causes darkness, winter and prevents crops from growing.
Who Was Vulcan?
Vulcan (Roman) or Hephaestus (Greek) was the god of fire, metalworking, stone masonry, forges, the art of sculpture, technology, and blacksmiths. He is often depicted in art with blacksmith tools, such as a hammer, tongs and anvil.
According to legend, he was the son of the king and queen of the gods (Zeus and Hera, (Greek) and Jupiter and Juno (Roman). His appearance displeased his mother, who threw him from the heavens. When he finally landed on earth, he severely damaged his leg. He was raised by the water nymph Thetis under the sea. His fascination with smithing began when he chanced upon a glowing ember left by a fisherman. He tended this ember, growing it to a roaring fire that he used to fashion magnificent metal utensils, weapons and jewellery. Thetis wore one of these pieces to dinner with Juno, his birth mother and accidentally revealed the whereabouts and skills of her son. Juno demanded that Vulcan return to her court, but he refused and sent her a magnificent gold and silver chair inlaid with mother of pearl. Juno was thrilled and sat on her new chair - only to find metal bands pinning her down. The chair was a trap! Jupiter, the father of Vulcan and king of the gods, negotiated for the release of Juno from the chair by promising Vulcan the hand of Venus in marriage.
Interested in Learning More?
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