Mythological Painting
A form of history painting based on themes taken from myths, legends or fables.

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Allegory with Venus and Cupid
(c.1545) National Gallery, London.
By Agnolo Bronzino.

Mythological Painting (c.1480-1960)


What is Mythological Painting?
What are the Most Common Types?
Famous Mythological Paintings

NOTE: For analysis of the greatest mythological paintings up to 1800, please see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800). For later pictures, see: Analysis of Modern Paintings (1800-2000).

Et in Arcadia Ego (1637)
(The Arcadian Shepherds)
By Nicolas Poussin.
Louvre Museum, Paris.

The Chimera (1867)
By Gustave Moreau.
Private Collection.

Greatest History Painters
For the Top 10 exponents
see: Best History Painters.

What is Mythological Painting? Characteristics

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.

What are the Most Common Types?

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.



Famous Mythological Paintings

Here is a short selected list of mythological images - arranged chronologically by artist - dating from the Florentine Renaissance to the 20th century.

Botticelli (1445-1510)
• Pallas and the Centaur (1482) Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
• Venus and Mars (1483) National Gallery, London.
Birth of Venus (1486) Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
La Primavera (1486) Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Hieronymus Bosch (1450–1516)
Garden of Earthly Delights (1500-05) Prado Museum, Madrid.

Gerard David (1460-1523)
• The Judgment of Cambyses (1498) Groeninge Museum, Bruges.

Giorgione (1477-1510)
• Pastoral Concert (Fête champêtre) (1509) Louvre, Paris.
The Sleeping Venus (1510) Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.

Joachim Patenier (1485-1524)
• Charon Crossing the Styx (1515-24) oil on panel, Prado, Madrid.

Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547)
• The Death of Adonis (1512) Uffizi, Florence.

Titian (c.1485-1576)
Bacchus and Ariadne (1522) National Gallery, London.
Bacchanal of the Andrians (1523-5) Prado Museum, Madrid.
• Danae with Eros (1544) National Museum of Capodimonte, Naples.
• The Punishment of Tythus (1549) Prado Museum, Madrid.
• Venus and Adonis (1553) Prado Museum, Madrid.
• Venus with a Mirror (1555) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
• Diana and Actaeon (1556-59) Scottish National Gallery.
• The Rape of Europa (1559-62) Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum, Boston.

Correggio (1494-1534)
• Danae (1531) Galleria Borghese, Rome.
• Ganymede abducted by the Eagle (1532) Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
• Leda with the Swan (1532) Staatliche Museen, Berlin.
Jupiter and Io (1533) Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

Agnolo Bronzino (1503-72)
• Allegory with Venus and Cupid (c.1545) National Gallery, London.

Tintoretto (1518-1594)
• Leda and the Swan (1552-58) Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1525-69)
• Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (1558) Museums of Fine Arts, Brussels.
Netherlandish Proverbs (1559) Gemaldegalerie SMPK, Berlin.
Mad Meg (Dulle Griet) (1562) Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp.
The Parable of the Blind (1568) Capodimonte Museum, Naples.

Paolo Veronese (1528-1588)
• Venus and Mars (1578) New York Metropolitan Museum.
• The Rape of Europa (1585) Palazzo Ducale, Venice.

Annibale Carracci (1560-1609)
Farnese Gallery frescoes "The Loves of the Gods" (1597-1608).

Caravaggio (1571-1610)
• Bacchus (1595) Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
• Narcissus (1595) Palazzo Barberini, Rome.
• The Head of Medusa (1598) Uffizi, Florence.
Amor Vincit Omnia (Victorious Cupid) (1602) Gemaldegalerie SMPK, Berlin.

Rubens (1577-1640)
• The Fall of Phaeton (1604) National Gallery of Art, Washington DC.
• Venus at the Mirror (1615) Liechtenstein Museum, Vaduz.
• Diana Returning from Hunt (1615) Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden.
• Minerva protects Pax from Mars (1629-30) National Gallery, London.
The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus (1618) Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
• Nymphs filling the Horn of Plenty (1615) Mauritshuis, The Hague.
Judgement of Paris (1632-6) National Gallery, London.
• The Birth of the Milky Way (1637) Prado Museum, Madrid.

Domenichino (1581-1641)
• St George Killing the Dragon (1610) National Gallery, London.

Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)
• The Great Bacchanal With Woman Playing A Lute (1628) Louvre, Paris.
• Midas and Bacchus (1630) Alte Pinakothek, Munich.
The Abduction of the Sabine Women (1634) Metropolitan Museum, NY.
• Landscape with Polyphemus (1649) The Hermitage, St Petersburg.
• Et in Arcadia Ego (Shepherds of Arcadia) (1650-55) Louvre Museum.

Velazquez (1599-1660)
The Rokeby Venus (1647-51) National Gallery, London.

Claude-Lorrain (1600-82)
• Landscape with Apollo and Mercury (1645) Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome.
• Landscape with the Nymph Egeria (1669) Capodimonte Museum, Naples.

Rembrandt (1606-1669)
• Danae (1636) The Hermitage, St Petersburg.
The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis (1661) Swedish National Museum.
Suicide of Lucretia (c.1666) Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669)
Allegory of Divine Providence (1633-39) Palazzo Barberini, Rome.

Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)
• The Judgement of Paris (1721) Louvre, Paris.

Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770)
• The Triumph of Zephyr and Flora (1734) Ca'Rezzonico, Venice.
• Zeus and Danae (1736) University Museum, Stockholm.
Wurzburg Residence Frescoes (1750-53).

Francois Boucher (1703-70)
The Triumph of Venus (1740) Nationalmuseum, Stockholm.
• Diana Leaving her Bath (1742) Louvre, Paris.
• The Toilet of Venus (1751) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
• The Visit of Venus to Vulcan (1757) Louvre, Paris.

Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807)
• Ariadne Abandoned by Theseus on Naxos (1774) Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Henri Fuseli (1741-1825)
The Nightmare (1781) Detroit Institute of Arts.
• The Night-Hag visiting the Lapland Witches (1796) Metropolitan Museum.

Francisco Goya (1746-1828)
The Colossus (1808-12) Prado, Madrid.
• The Witches' Sabbath (The Great Billy Goat) (1821) Prado, Madrid.
Saturn Devouring his Son (1823) Prado, Madrid.

Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825)
Oath of the Horatii (1785) Louvre, Paris.

Eugene Delacroix (1798-1863)
The Death of Sardanapalus (1827) Louvre, Paris.

Gustave Moreau (1826-98)
• The Sphinx (1864) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
• Orpheus (1865) Musee d'Orsay, Paris.
• The Chimera (1867) Private Collection.
• The Apparition (1876) Fogg Art Museum.

Arnold Bocklin (1827-1901)
• Centaurs' Combat (1873) Kunstmuseum, Basel.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-82)
• Proserpine (1882) Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

John Everett Millais (1829-96)
• Ophelia (1852) Tate Collection, London.

Frederic Leighton (1830-1896)
• Reconciliation of the Montagues and Capulets (1854) Yale Center.
• The Bath of Psyche (1890) Tate Britain.

Edward Burne-Jones (1833-98)
• The Beguiling of Merlin (1874) Lady Lever Art Gallery.
• The Garden of Pan (1887) National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

Odilon Redon (1840-1916)
• The Birth of Venus (1905) Private Collection.
• The Cyclops (1914) Kroller-Muller Museum, The Netherlands.

John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)
• Lady of Shalott (1888) Tate Collection, London.

Pablo Picasso (!881-1973)
Two Women Running on the Beach (1922) Musee Picasso, Paris.

Barnett Newman (1905-70)
• Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950-1) MoMA, New York.

Jackson Pollock (1912-56)
Pasiphae (1943) Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Francis Bacon (1909-92)
• Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion (1944) Tate Collection.

Cy Twombly (1928-2011)
• Leda and the Swan (1962) MoMA, New York.

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