Jupiter and Io by Correggio
Interpretation of High Renaissance Mythological Painting

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Jupiter and Io
By Correggio.
Considered to be one of the
Greatest Paintings Ever.

Jupiter and Io (1533)


High Renaissance Paintings Explained


Name: "Jupiter and Io"
Date: 1532-33
Artist: Antonio Allegri da Correggio (1494-1534)
Medium: Oil painting
Genre: History painting
Movement: High Renaissance Art (Parma, Mantua)
Location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

For analysis and explanation of other important pictures from the Renaissance, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).

For analysis of mythological
paintings by Renaissance
painters like Correggio, see
our educational articles:
Art Evaluation and
How to Appreciate Paintings.

Analysis of Jupiter and Io

One of the great mythological masterpieces of High Renaissance painting, Jupiter and Io (1533) was painted by Correggio for Federico II of Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua. It is one of a series of four paintings designed for Federico's Palazzo del Te, in Mantua: the others being Danae (1531, Galleria Borghese, Rome), Ganymede abducted by the Eagle (1532, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), and Leda with the Swan (1532, Staatliche Museen, Berlin). By the time of this commission, Correggio was already one of the finest Old Masters in Italy, due to his virtuoso skill in quadratura painting, exemplified in his awesome Assumption of the Virgin (Parma Cathedral) (1524-30). However, he was less well-known than other High Renaissance artists - like Raphael and Michelangelo - because his commissions were for provincial customers, rather than for the Papacy and the Renaissance in Rome. In any event, Jupiter and Io was his most famous mythological painting, whose beguiling, erotic nature influenced numerous artists of the late Italian Renaissance, as well as new Mannerist masters like Parmigianino (1503-40). Elements of his style reemerged during the era of Rococo art, in the hands of Francois Boucher (1703-70).

In the development of his style, Correggio was influenced initially - in his understanding of linear perspective and foreshortening - by Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506), creator of Camera Degli Sposi Frescoes (1465-74) for Ludovico Gonzaga (1412-78) Duke of Mantua. In addition, he drew on different influences from cities in the north, particularly Venice and Milan. He borrowed from both Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) and Giorgione (1477-1510), but he was little influenced by Raphael or Michelangelo. Furthermore, although he was familiar with the works of Classical Antiquity, he avoided the contrived Classicism of both the Bolognese School and the artists in Rome. Even so, the famous biographer Giorgio Vasari acknowledged that no painter of the day was better at handling colour or at depicting the softness of flesh and the texture of hair.



Correggio derived the story of Jupiter and Io from Ovid's classic work Metamorphoses (c.10 CE), a popular source which contained numerous descriptions of the loves of the gods - ideal material to satisfy the salacious appetite of the Mantuan aristocrat. Jupiter often transformed himself into another shape in order to seduce the women he desired. In Jupiter and Io, he envelopes himself in a dark cloud in order to seduce the nymph Io - daughter of Inachus, king of Argos. Earlier, he had approached lo in his own guise and asked her to come into the woods with him, but when she fled he turned himself into a cloud and pursued her.

The picture shows Io sitting on a tree trunk in the woods. A deer drinks at her feet, while all around her is a swirl of murky cloud. Suddenly, Jupiter - whose face is just visible above Io's - pounces, pulling the nymph into his embrace. Io is taken completely by surprise, as shown by her unbalanced position. She grasps Jupiter with her left hand, while her right waves helplessly. The picture captures her in mid-seduction - her chaste white flesh trembling at Jupiter's erotic touch. Jupiter himself is not depicted. Rather his presence is hinted at within the mist, as he kisses the nymph while holding her firm with his right hand. The wickedness of his predatory intentions are perfectly evoked by the shadowy form of his face and the darkness of the cloud in which he lurks.

Note Correggio's mastery of sfumato which allows him to create a seamless tonality in both Io's body and the cloud which is about to engulf her. Note also the contrast between the chameleon-like immateriality of Jupiter, and the sensual substance of Io's body, which anticipates Rubens' female nudes as well as the euphoria of Bernini's Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1647-52).

High Renaissance/Mannerist Paintings Explained

For an interpretation of other paintings from the era of High Renaissance and Mannerism, see the following articles:

The Tempest (1506-8) Venice Academy Gallery.
By Giorgione.

Sistine Madonna (1513-14) Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.
By Raphael.

Assumption of the Virgin (1516-18) Saint Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, Venice.
By Titian.

The Transfiguration (1518-20) Pinacoteca Apostolica, Vatican.
By Raphael.

Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-23) National Gallery, London.
By Titian.

Bacchanal of the Andrians (1523-5) Prado, Madrid.
By Titian.

An Allegory with Venus and Cupid (1540-50) National Gallery, London.
By Bronzino.


• For analysis of other High Renaissance paintings in Mantua, see: Homepage.

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