September 27, 2022

Scenes depicting Greek mythology—ancient Greek gods and goddesses, heroes and anti-heroes—are one of the most popular themes in European art. From medieval Europe to the Renaissance, which brought a renewed interest in cultural antiquity, Greek mythology paintings is a prominent subject that has also been carried into contemporary art. 

Characters from Greek myths have become an inescapable presence in modern culture. Stories of powerful gods and goddesses believed to preside over the affairs of mortals are continually adapted into every art form; books, poetry, plays, and of course, visual art.

These deities possess intriguing personalities and unique characteristics, making them exciting subjects for artists to depict. This article explores Ancient Greek myths as we focus on the magnificent paintings that portray them. 

The Birth Of Venus- Alexandre Cabanel

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Cabanel was a French painter and portraitist during the 19 century. He mostly painted historical and religious subjects in the Academic art style or Academism. Nevertheless, Cabanel left an indelible mark on French art. He was often appointed as a juror for the Paris Salon and was retained at his alma mater, the École des Beaux-Arts, to teach subsequent generations of artists. 

Venus, also called Aphrodite, is the goddess of love, sex, and fertility. She is one of the most recognized deities in Greek Goddess painting as she is an embodiment of love and sexuality and is mainly painted nude. 

Cabanel’s 1863 oil painting of the goddess depicts her nude form resting sleepily atop ocean waves as cherubs hover around her. Napoleon III of France purchased this version, but Cabanel painted two subsequent versions. Each version is on display at the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France; Dahesh Museum of Art, New York, USA; and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA, respectively.

Narcissus- Caravaggio

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was an iconic Italian painter of the late 16th to early 17th centuries. He is known for his Chiaroscuro method, which uses intense highlights and dark shades for contrasts. Although he began his art training in Milan, he spent most of his career in Rome before fleeing the city on murder charges. 

As per Greek mythology, Narcissus was a young lad known for his unparalleled beauty. He rejected all romantic advances and eventually fell in love with his own reflection in the water. So much so that he stared at it for the rest of his life. His character is the origin of “narcissism,” a word that defines the obsession with oneself. 

Caravaggio’s depiction of Narcissus was created around 1599. It features an elegantly dressed pageboy, propped up on both hands as he kneels by the edge of a waterbody and stares at his reflection in the water. The painting’s background is completely dark, while certain parts of the subjects have been highlighted. The painting currently resides at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome.

Apollo And Daphne- Theodore Chasseriau

Chasseriau was a 19th-century Dominican-born French painter known for his portraits and religious and historical paintings. He also produced some orientalist images inspired by his trips to Algeria. Additionally, he is the youngest artist ever featured at the Musée de Louvre, Paris. 

Apollo and Daphne is a famous story in ancient mythology that several authors have retold. The myth narrates how the warrior-god of art, Apollo, mocks Eros, the god of love. As revenge, Eros shoots Apollo with a golden arrow, making him fall madly in love with the river nymph Daphne. Unfortunately, he then shoots Daphne with a lead arrow, instilling a deep hatred for Apollo in her. Thus binding Apollo to a tragic fate of unrequited love! 

Chasseriau’s depiction of the myth is a lithograph rendered in brown ink on paper. It captures Apollo on his knees, clinging to Daphne’s waist as she transforms into a laurel tree with her legs turning into thick roots. 

The Abduction Of Psyche- William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Bouguereau was a French Academic painter renowned for his mythological depictions and focused on the female form in his art. His career enjoyed significant success, with his fame spreading internationally to the US. He also received numerous honors for several of his high-value works. 

Psyche was a princess and paragon of beauty known for her romance with Eros, the Greek god of love in Greek mythology. Unfortunately, she becomes idolized and is worshiped by admirers instead of Venus, the goddess of love. Insulted, Venus commissions Eros for a revenge plot. However, Eros falls deeply in love with Psyche instead. 

Bouguereau’s nearly life-sized painting captures the curly-haired, winged Eros as he sweeps Psyche into the air in a side embrace. Their serene forms and the Psyche’s contentment in her lover’s arms betray the painting’s English title. In French, it’s called L’enlèvement de Psyché (The Rapture of Psyche), a more befitting description.

Lament For Icarus- Herbert James Draper

Draper was an English Classical painter of the Victorian era. His artistry focused on mythological themes from Ancient Greece, and this particular painting is his most famous.

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