Thursday, October 1, 2015

15 Works, Olympian deities in classical Greek and Roman religion

“The Choice of Hercules” (or “Heracles” to the Greeks), attributed to the highly-regarded ancient sophist Prodicus (Memorabilia, 2.1). Antisthenes, the Cynics, and the Stoics apparently all agreed that Hercules, the greatest of Zeus’ sons, provided an ideal example of the self-discipline and endurance required to be a true philosopher. The story symbolises the great challenge of deciding whom we actually want to be in life, what type of life we want to live, the promise of philosophy, and the temptation of vice. Zeno himself was perhaps compared to Hercules by his followers and we know that his successor Cleanthes was dubbed “a second Hercules”, on account of his self-mastery.

JOHN W. KELLEY (b. 1952)
Oil on canvas, 1986, 
signed 'John W. Kelley' lower right

The story goes that Hercules, when a young man, found himself at an isolated fork in the road, where he sat to contemplate his future. Uncertain which path to take in life he found himself confronted by two goddesses. One, a very beautiful and alluring woman, was called Kakia, although she claimed that her friends call her “Happiness” (Eudaimonia). She charged in front to ensure she spoke first, promising him that her path was “easiest and pleasantest”, and that it provided a short-cut to “Happiness”. She claimed he would avoid hardship and enjoy luxury beyond most men’s wildest dreams, produced by the labour of others. 

Hercules was approached by the second goddess, called Aretê, a plain-dressed and humble woman, though naturally beautiful. To his surprise, she told him that her path would require hard work from him and it would be “long and difficult”. In fact the path Hercules chose would be dangerous beyond belief, he would be tested by many hardships, perhaps more than any man who had lived before, and have to endure great loss and suffering along the way. “Nothing that is really good and admirable”, saidAretê, “is granted by the gods to men without some effort and application.”

The choice of hercules - 1763 

Pompeo Batoni

oil on canvas

Hercules, of course, chose the path of Aretê or “Virtue” and was not seduced by Kakia or “Vice”.

Paolo Veronese
Allegory of Vice and Virtue / The Choice of Hercules 
completed in 1580

The Choice of Hercules
by Paolo de' Matteis
Date painted: 1712
Oil on canvas, 
64.1 x 76.8 cm

Heracles & Omphale
Oil on canvas; laid down on panel
Southern Europe, late 19th C
Dimensions: 100 x 89 cm 

The present oil study is the work of an artist, presumably active in Southern Europe in the late 19th century. The history painting depicts a scene from Greek mythology. It shows Heracles and his wife Omphale. Herakles first came as a slave to the Lydian queen. After she found out that he was the heroic son of Zeus, she married him. In blind love for her and effeminate by court life, Heracles was tyrannized by his royal spouse. While she wore the attributes of his strength - the skin of the Nemean Lion and the olive-wood club - he was forced to do women's work and even wear women's clothing. The subject was very popular through the centuries and offered numerous artists such as Lucas Cranach, Peter Paul Rubens, Giacomo Amigoni, Tintoretto or Sebastiano Ricci the opportunity to explore sexual roles and erotic themes.

Jusepe de Ribera, called Lo Spagnoletto and Workshop | lot | Sotheby's
Jusepe de Ribera, called Lo Spagnoletto and Workshop
oil on canvas
205.2 by 154.5 cm.; 80 3/4  by 60 7/8  in.

This large depiction of Hercules resting from his labours was only rediscovered in 1990 but may be the painting referred to by Palomino as early as 1724 in the collection of the Duke of Salvatierra. The composition was already known through an old copy of similar dimensions but of significantly inferior quality which was always presumed to be based on a lost original by Ribera and which has at times been attributed to Luca Giordano.1 Probably datable to circa 1630, around the time Ribera painted his series of Giants, including the Ixion and the Tityus in the Prado, the Johnson Hercules is a celebration of corporality and power: the strength and presence of the Greek hero is accentuated by the way he fills the pictorial space and by the close interest Ribera pays to the sheer physicality of the body and the musculature.

Europa and the Bull
Germany, 18th Century
Oil on metal plate
Dimensions 12.6 x 24.2 cm

Offered painting shows one of the most popular ancient topics of Greek mythology ‘The Rape of Europa’. The daughter of the Phoenician King Agenor, sits on the back of the massive white bull and waves a red stole towards the two persons at the shore. The bull is Zeus, who is already in the sea to leave to the island of Crete with Europa.

Satyr and Nymph
Europe, Late 18th Century
Oil on wood
Depiction rendered in fine brush strokes
Dimensions 33.4 x 22.3 cm

The painting possibly alludes to the story of Jupiter and Antiope. In this myth the sleeping Antiope is being surprised and seduced by Zeus in disguise of a satyr. The paintingJupiter und Antiope (1714-19) by Antoine Watteau, whose style is similar to that of present artist, also features this saga. Unlike here however, Antiope is depicted fast asleep. Thus the focal point here could be set rather on the erotic component and the visual contrasts, since due to their diverse appearance satyr and nymph are extremely popular objects of the pictorial arts: the beautiful nymph with pale skin and fine robes is opposed with the satyr, whose sunburned skin, goat legs, fur and horns create a contrast.

Votive Plaque of a Legionnaire in Gold
Jupiter seated on his throne, lightning at his feet.
To his left, the goddess Fortuna on the Wheel of Destiny
holding a laurel wreath above an eagle, the emblem of the legions.
To the right of Jupiter is an armored man wearing a helmet,
probably a dedicatee, a high ranking officer,
taking in account the precious material.
L 16 x H 14 cm

Circle of Paulus Moreelse (Utrecht 1571-1638) Venus and Adonis
Circle of Paulus Moreelse (Utrecht 1571-1638)
Venus and Adonis 
oil on panel
29.8 x 43.5cm (11 3/4 x 17 1/8in).

Follower of Sir  Anthony van Dyck (Antwerp 1599-1641 Blackfriars) Cupid
Follower of Sir Anthony van Dyck (Antwerp 1599-1641 Blackfriars)
oil on canvas
125 x 101.5cm (49 3/16 x 39 15/16in).

Circle of Jacopo Robusti, called il Tintoretto (Venice 1518-1594) An Allegory of Victory
Circle of Jacopo Robusti, called il Tintoretto (Venice 1518-1594)
An Allegory of Victory 
oil on canvas
99 x 238cm (39 x 93 11/16in).

Circle of Andrea Casali (Civitavecchia 1720-1784 Rome) The Rape of Persephone
Circle of Andrea Casali (Civitavecchia 1720-1784 Rome)
The Rape of Persephone 
oil on canvas
72.6 x 140.6cm (28 9/16 x 55 3/8in).

After Tiziano Vecellio, called Titian, 19th Century Flora
After Tiziano Vecellio, called Titian, 19th Century
oil on canvas
78.6 x 62.5cm (30 15/16 x 24 5/8in).

In Roman mythology, Flora was a Sabine-derived goddess of flowers and of the season of spring - a symbol for nature and flowers (especially the may-flower). While she was otherwise a relatively minor figure in Roman mythology, being one among several fertility goddesses, her association with the spring gave her particular importance at the coming of springtime, as did her role as goddess of youth. More