Mythological Painting (c.1480-1960)
Traditionally classified as a form of history painting, mythological pictures are based on themes taken from mythology - that is, from traditional tales invented to explain a particular belief, historical event, or fact of nature. Mythological imagery can also be based on fables or parables, or historical legends. Whatever their origin, these pictures usually involve figure painting and are often executed in a large format. Influences on the development of mythological painting, included Renaissance art (1400-1600) and 19th century Romanticism, as well as the aesthetics of academic art as championed by the major European academies of fine art, notably the prestigious French Academy in Paris.
Up until the 20th century, the most common mythological paintings were those that illustrated Greek or Roman myths, involving Greek gods/goddesses like Aphrodite, Apollo, Artemis, Athena, Dionysus, Hera, Hermes and Zeus, as well as Callisto, Io, Europa, Danae, Ganymede, Leda and Semele. Roman deities like Apollo, Diana, Juno, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Neptune and Venus were also popular subjects. All this was because the Italian Renaissance venerated anything to do with the art of classical antiquity, as did the leading art critics of the Age of Enlightenment - like Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68) - and the 19th century - like John Ruskin (1819-1900).
In addition to classical mythology, mythological paintings might be based on any other popular mythical stories, including those associated with Arabian, Celtic (see Celtic culture), Christian (see Biblical art), Oriental (see Asian art), Egyptian (see Egyptian art), Islamic (see Islamic art), Norse (see Viking art), or Persian mythologies, to name but a few.
In a wider sense, "mythological pictures" might be based on stories taken from literature. Typical sources are the plays of William Shakespeare, the poetry of Tennyson, as well as books such as the Iliad and Odyssey by Homer (c.10th century BCE); Aesop's Fables (6th century BCE); the Aeneid by Virgil (70-19 BCE) and Metamorphoses by Ovid (43 BCE 17 CE); Le Morte d'Arthur (1485) (the legend of King Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, and the Knights of the Round Table) by Sir Thomas Malory of Newbold Revel (1415-71); One Thousand and One Arabian Nights (1706); Grimm's Fairy Tales (1812); Alice Through the Looking Glass (1871); Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales (1837); and so on.
Here is a short selected list of mythological images - arranged chronologically by artist - dating from the Florentine Renaissance to the 20th century.
Gerard David (1460-1523)
del Piombo (1485-1547)
Bruegel the Elder (1525-69)
Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669)
Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82)
Everett Millais (1829-96)
William Waterhouse (1849-1917)
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ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ART