Joseph Heintz the Elder
BASEL 1564 - 1609 PRAGUE
DIANA AND CALLISTO
indistinctly signed in monogram on the base of Diana's throne lower right
oil on copper
47 by 33 cm.; 18 1/2 by 13 in.
DIANA AND CALLISTO. Callisto was the favourite of Diana, virgin goddess of the hunt. Her beauty aroused the attention of Jupiter, king of the gods, who seduced her by disguising himself as Diana. Nine months later Callisto’s pregnancy was discovered when she was forced by her suspicious companions to strip and bathe after hunting. The painting shows the moment of her humiliating exposure and banishment from Diana’s chaste entourage.
Joseph Heintz (or Heinz) the Elder (11 June 1564 – October 1609) was a Swiss painter, draftsman and architect. He was born in Basle & appears to have been a pupil of Hans Bock, and to have educated himself by diligent practice in copying the works of Hans Holbein the younger. Between 1585 and 1587 he lived in Rome, registering himself a pupil; to Hans von Aachen. He next settled in Bohemia in 1591, and was at once appointed court painter to Rudolf II, but he remained in Prague for two years only, as in 1593 he was commissioned to make some copies from the antique for the emperor, and for that purpose went to Rome, where he spent some years. In 1604 we hear of him in Augsburg, and from the time we know little of his history, until his decease is recorded in a village near Prague.
In this painting, painted around the turn of the seventeenth century, is both a summation of Heintz’ art and a paradigm of the sensuousness and imaginative fantasy of Mannerism. Set in a watery cave, but strongly lit, it depicts the moment described by Ovid when the pregnancy of the nymph Callisto resulting from her liaison with Jupiter is uncovered by Diana and her other nymphs, one of whom raises the red cloth covering Callisto to reveal her gravid torso, while Diana sits enthroned in judgement, the extended fingers of her right hand raised in admonition.1 The pallid flesh of the nymphs, their muscled thighs and etiolated arms are painted with an extreme degree of tautness as if they were engaged in a balletic performance for the viewer.