Fooling the Eye: Illusionistic Games in Andrea Mantegna’s Bridal Chamber
A masterpiece of the early Italian Renaissance, Andrea Mantegna’s Bridal Chamber has been described as the most beautiful room in the world.
Natalia Iacobelli 30 March 2023
min Read9 May 2023
In a series of articles, we are meeting each of the seven Poesies, which Titian delivered to Philip II of Spain in the 1550s and early 1560s. Each painting depicted a small section of the epic poem Metamorphoses, by the Roman poet Ovid.
So far, we have encountered the stories of Danaë, Venus and Adonis, and Perseus and Andromeda. Today it is time for Europa to have the spotlight.
The best preserved of all of the Poesies is the Rape of Europa. It is another story of Jupiter (Roman equivalent for Zeus) consummating his desire for a female mortal in a changed form, not gold this time but a bull. According to the myth, Europa and her girlfriends were hanging about on the coast when a beautiful bull (Jupiter in disguise) distracted Europa and eventually lured her out to sea.
Then he goes further out and carries his prize over the mid-surface of the sea. She is terrified and looks back at the abandoned shore she has been stolen from and her right hand grips a horn, the other his back, her clothes fluttering, winding, behind her in the breeze.
Ovid, Metamorphoses, II.872-875
Titian makes Europa’s distress very clear and uses the opportunity to revel both in the colors of a sunset and in portraying the motion of the waves and fabrics in the scene. In the foreground, you can see that Titian has added a scary sea monster into his rendition of the myth, possibly to make it a pairing with Perseus and Andromeda. Another shared aspect of the two is the group of concerned observers visible in the background of both paintings.
1. The female nude, which is hard to miss.
These famous paintings achieve many things, not least their depictions of the female nude from all possible angles.
2. D-R-A-M-A. Again, hard to miss.
Their greatest feat however is the way Titian captures the drama of the stories from Metamorphoses. Each Poesie focuses on the moment just before the climax. They are incredible to behold even if you don’t know the myth behind them, captivating and engaging the most astute viewer because of their specificity to the Ovidian poem.
They’re marvelous as stand-alone paintings, in pairs, and as a set. Taken as duos, the paintings often mirror each other visually.
4. Drapery, dogs, and dead-pan stares.
As a set, the Poesies offer coherent motifs such as the dogs, the red drapery, and the power play of the gaze.
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