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Greek Mythology in Art: The Story of Perseus and Andromeda

In Greek Mythology, Perseus is known as one of the greatest heroes. He was the offspring of the powerful Zeus and the mortal Danae.

Throughout the lore, he is known for the slaughtering of the Gorgon Medusa and the rescuing of the Ethiopian Princess, Andromeda. Andromeda was a beautiful princess who was offered up as a sacrifice to the gods who were angry due to her mother's extreme vanity. The arrogant queen Cassiopeia had been bragging about her daughter's superior beauty to the sea nymphs.

In an act of revenge, Poseidon unleashed the sea monster Cetus to ravage the the coasts of Aethiopia to avenge the insulting words said to the Nereids. The desperate king suggested the sacrifice of his daughter instead of the entire kingdom. Reluctantly, Posieden agreed to the sacrifice.

While flying over Aethiopia, Persues is struck with the sight of Andromeda chained to the rocks awaiting Cetus to devour her and he instantly falls in love with the helpless maiden. This led to an epic battle between the hero Perseus and the sea monster. In the end, love wins as Perseus rescues Andromeda and brings her to Greece to be his queen.

Below are some well-known visual representations of their story:

Titian, Perseus and Andromeda, 1554-6, Oil on canvas, 230 x 243 Courtesy of the Wallace Collection

Perseus and Andromeda is part of a series of commissioned works by King Philip II of Spain. Each piece was asked to represent a scene from Ovid's Metamorphoses. The Italian artist, Titian was tasked with choosing which scenes he would depict. This collection of works is well regarded as they became a breakthrough in the artist's career.

François Lemoyne, Perseus and Andromeda, 1723, oil on canvas, Courtersy of The Wallce Collection

Commissioned by the Swiss poet, François Berger this painting is now housed at the Wallace Collection in London. In Lemoyne’s interpretation of the famous rescue scene, the artist's style is greatly influenced by Venetian art in its choice of colour and technique. Moreover, the brushstrokes and painting's composition highlight the light reflecting on Andromeda's body in a classic Venetian style as she takes her last glance at her love Perseus.

Giambattista Tiepolo, Perseus and Andromeda, ca. 1730–31, Oil on canvas, 20 3/8 x 16 in. (51.8 x 40.6 cm), The Frick Collection, New York, Courtesy of The Frick Collection

In this painting, the artist Giambattista Tiepolo took liberties with the original text as he showcased Perseus riding on the horse Pegasus with Andromeda instead of by way of his winged sandals. Around the two lovers is a parade of cupids celebrating their victory. Throughout this composition, the viewer can spot small stars that are foreshadowing the later transformation of the lovers into constellations.

Peter Paul Rubens, Perseus Freeing Andromeda, 1638, Oil on Canvas, Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Peter Paul Rubens adds his classic visual style to this depiction of Perseus and Andromeda. The soft brushstrokes and the lightly-toned colors are typical of Rubens during this time. Rubens's understanding and knowledge of humanities and antiquities provide an educated and thoughtful representation of the scene. The artist is also known to take inspiration for his subject from classic Roman statues. In this painting, the subjects are inspired by the classic sculpture of Venus and her son, Cupid, the "Venus Felix."



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