Surrounded by menacing crows, a mother sheep wails in anguish as her lifeless young lamb rests on a snowy bed. This scene, painted by August...
Montaine Dumont 14 September 2023
min Read5 June 2023
Jupiter and Io by Correggio is a masterpiece of the Northern Italian Renaissance. It explores sensual nudity through the lens of a Roman myth.
Antonio Allegri, better known as Correggio, was an Italian Renaissance painter who lived circa 1489 to 1534. He lived and worked the majority of his life in Parma where he painted mostly allegorical and mythological subjects in a refined courtly style. Some modern art scholars say that Correggio’s elegance is a stylistic fusion of Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical modeling, Raphael’s feminine beauty, and Titian’s vibrant coloring. Jupiter and Io, painted by Correggio in 1530, is a masterpiece showcasing his elegant style and his adept handling of sensuality.
Jupiter and Io is an oil on canvas measuring 73.5 cm wide by 162 cm tall (29 in wide by 64 in tall). It depicts a sensuous seduction from Metamorphoses, an epic poem by the ancient Roman writer Ovid. In this particular scene the Roman god Jupiter, in the form of a misty cloud, approaches the beautiful Io who was a river nymph and a princess of Argos and/or a priestess to the goddess Juno. This mortal woman succumbs to her divine lover as the stormy dark mist kisses her rose-and-lily face and caresses her soft white flesh. Her head is thrown back in passionate ecstasy while her fingers and toes curl in orgasmic pleasure. This highly erotic scene displays extraordinary sensuality but with easy delicate tenderness.
Correggio’s masterpiece is probably the most famous painting depicting Jupiter’s seduction of Io. It was commissioned by Federico II Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, to join three other erotic paintings based upon Metamorphoses. The 4-part series was originally intended as a gift for Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, but Federico II Gonzaga loved them so much that he kept them for himself. He placed them in a large room, which he named the Room of Ovid, in his Palazzo del Te in Mantua. Ironically, the duke only enjoyed these amorous paintings for less than 10 years as he died in 1540 from syphilis.
The physical beauty of Io is absolutely breathtaking. Correggio is aware of accurate skeletal structure and therefore flawlessly depicts a real flesh-and-blood woman in the throngs of pleasure. Io leans glamorously straddled between a mossy ground and a cloudy lover. Her luminous body is a sleek flow of shoulders, back, buttocks and thighs. Her head tilts in jubilation as the god’s kisses press upon her.
Overwhelming sensuality and unapologetic voluptuousness fill the scene. The reference to Ovid’s Metamorphoses is simply a pretext to display beautiful erotica with a respectable intellectual veneer. Jupiter and Io certainly pushed the boundaries of 16th-century Italian decency. It is definitely one of the most flagrantly erotic and monumental representations of the human nude body in the history of Western art. Even today, it still inspires strong reactions of admiration or prudery.
Perhaps the flagrant erotica is a reason why Correggio adds a deer drinking water in the lower right corner? A deer drinking water was a Renaissance Christian symbol for a person’s longing for God. Does the almost-hidden deer head add a Christian layer of respectability? Many modern viewers would say if it is, it utterly fails. The eroticism is just too visually strong.
Correggio’s masterpiece explores a major Renaissance concern which is what is the ideal union between humanity and nature? What is our place in the world as we straddle between naturally-born ignorance and artificially-gained intelligence? Humanity continues to struggle between elevating itself above the natural world without destroying the natural world. Jupiter and Io is a beautiful expression of humanity and nature finding balance as the beautiful nude is embraced by a condensed atmosphere. Life-forms and life-elements are unified through love.
Jupiter and Io can presently be found in the massive collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Austria. It sparkles like a shining beacon of light that projects a world of divine love and earthly pleasure. It stirs the emotions and fills the heart with joy. Love. Life. Light. Coreggio certainly deserves wider recognition.
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