(b. 1528, Verona, d. 1588, Venezia)

The Rape of Europa

c. 1578
Oil on canvas, 240 x 303 cm
Palazzo Ducale, Venice

This painting is part of the decoration in the Sala di Anticollegio. This room functioned as the antechamber of honour before being received by the College in the Sala del Collegio.

Painted between 1576 and 1580, the picture was reported by Zanetti as hanging in its present place in 1755; it was removed by the French in 1797 and taken to Paris, where it was restored and altered. It represents the mythical rape of Europa by Jupiter in the guise of a bull, as she prepares to mount on the god's back with the help of her maids. The action unfolds towards the right in the manner of a stage sequence, in successive scenes down to the final plunge into the waves of the sea. The composition clearly marks the moment of transition from Renaissance Classicism to seventeenth-century Arcadia. The sumptuous decor and rich colouring were to provide a seminal experience for subsequent Baroque painting. Thus the painting initiates the exaltation of the ruling class through court mythology intended to rekindle the aristocracy's love of pomp and circumstance by allegories with which it could identify itself.