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Correggio, Jupiter and Io

Correggio, Jupiter and Io, 1532-33, oil on canvas 163.5 x 70.5 cm (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) Speakers: Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker


Jupiter and Io and the other canvases by Correggio discussed in the video, The Rape (Abduction)of Ganymede, Danäe, and Leda and the Swan illustrate stories from the poem Metamorphoses by the Roman poet Ovid. Metamorphoses is, of course about transformation, such as Jupiter becoming a swan, but it is also about love and is one of the most influential texts ever written. Below is a translated excerpt:

Ovid's Metamorphoses: Book I, lines 587-600 

Jupiter first saw her returning from her father’s stream, and said ‘Virgin, worthy of Jupiter himself, who will make some unknown man happy when you share his bed, while it is hot and the sun is at the highest point of its arc, find shade in the deep woods! (and he showed her the woods’ shade). But if you are afraid to enter the wild beasts’ lairs, you can go into the remote woods in safety, protected by a god, and not by any lesser god, but by the one who holds the sceptre of heaven in his mighty hand, and who hurls the flickering bolts of lightning. Do not fly from me!’ She was already in flight. She had left behind Lerna’s pastures, and the Lyrcean plain’s wooded fields, when the god hid the wide earth in a covering of fog, caught the fleeing girl, and raped her. 

University of Virginia etext, translation from the Latin by Anthony S. Kline, CC BY-NC

Please note, while the video relates the most broadly accepted understanding of the provenance of the painting Jupiter and Io, little is certain, and competing theories do exist.

Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

(piano playing) Steven: Hera, Zeus's wife, was really jealous. Beth: And with very good reason, he was often fooling around. Steven: He would take on disguises to help him get away with his escapades. Beth: To hide from Hera's jealous gaze. One time he took the form of a swan, another time of an eagle. Steven: And in this painting by Correggio, Io and Jupiter, he's not becoming something else so much as enveloping himself in a dark cloud, even though it's bright daylight. Beth: And here he is embracing the beautiful nymph Io. And you can just make out his face in that fog and his hand embracing her. Steven: It creates this wonderful sense of softness, even though it's just light, it's just paint. We get this cottony, billowy cloud that surrounds him and envelopes both of them. Beth: Correggio's obviously looked at Leonardo and thought about Sfumato and those kinds of softening of edges. Steven: But when combined with his background as a Venetian painter, thinking about light, thinking about color, you get this tour de force. Beth: This was commissioned by Federico the Second, the Duke of Mantua, a member of the very powerful and wealthy Gonzaga family, for a room dedicated to the loves of Jupiter. Steven: So this is a subject that was quite famous because of the poetry of Ovid, something that during the Renaissance was being revived. Ovid was a classical writer, an ancient Roman writer. Beth: This painting along with it's pendant which is hanging next to it of The Abduction of Ganymede were both gifts to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles the Fifth. And paintings showing Zeus, or Jupiter, flattered the power of rulers like the Duke of Mantua and the Holy Roman Emperor. Steven: And actually it was the Holy Roman Emperor who had made that Gonzaga a duke. Let's focus though on the painting of Jupiter and Io. Beth: We have a very vertical composition and Io, seen from behind, tilting her head back. Look at her left arm, embracing the mist, bringing it toward her. Steven: Correggio has created light that seems to take on substance. Beth: The light is fabulous. Look at the dappled sunlight on her calf and the back of her heel and then on the front of her foot and along her back and her arms. He's really capturing the warmth. Look at the way that the sheet that's under and behind her pours around her body. Steven: But that feels so much more clarified and visually sharp compared to her flesh which is even softer in contrast. You had mentioned the way in which she was giving herself up to him. She's going to push her body up towards him, on the balls of her feet. Beth: Right, that return of Jupiter's embrace. Steven: So this is a painting that is over the top with its sensuality. Beth: It really is. She leans her head back, she opens her mouth. Her right hand, her fingers open up also as though she's taking him in, her body almost melts downward. You can feel the next moment. Her flesh is so soft and her skin is so porcelain like and lovely, and I feel as though Correggio has offset that with this roots and moss and trees and mud and the water below her so that her flesh seems even more perfect. Steven: So as she's offset by the earthly, Zeus or Jupiter, is offset by the brilliant sky above and so you have this clarity and this notion of the heavens. As opposed to her earthly sphere as a nymph. Beth: And you can see how Correggio is going to be very important for later Baroque artists. The way that Io gives herself up to a kind of ecstatic experience, foreshadows what we'll see with Bernini, for example in St. Teresa in Ecstasy. Steven: So there is this willingness to completely embrace emotion as opposed to the more intellectual pursuits of the Renaissance. (piano playing)