STELLA, Jacques
(b. 1596, Lyon, d. 1657, Paris)

Minerva and the Muses

1640-45
Oil on canvas, 116 x 162 cm
Musée du Louvre, Paris

Stella's art, although sometimes influenced by Poussin in terms of its composition, was often very much more light-hearted. Although he sometimes used Poussinesque figures in his larger compositions, Stella never interested himself in the moral and intellectual side of Poussin's art.

The mythological story depicted in this painting is the following.

Minerva (Greek Pallas Athena) was one of the major deities of ancient Greece and Rome, and, like Apollo, a benevolent and civilizing influence. In Greek mythology she was the daughter of Jupiter (Zeus), and sprang fully armed from his head. The familiar figure in armour with spear, shield and helmet, the patroness of institutions of learning and the arts, seen in civic heraldry, sculpture and painting, is only one of her many aspects. In an early form she was a war goddess, hence her weapons. She was the patroness of Athens, and the Parthenon was her temple.

Ovid describes (Met. 5:250-268) how Minerva visited the Muses on Mt Helicon, their home, to listen to their song and story and to see the sacred spring, the Hippocrene, which flowed from a rock after it had been struck by the hoof of the winged horse, Pegasus. The scene is a wooded mountain-side where the company of Muses are playing their instruments or perusing books. Pegasus is seen in the background. The association of Minerva and the Muses was in line with the tradition that made her patroness of the arts.