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Arcas Hunting
Andrea Schiavone
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This is one of three mythological scenes to decorate a cassone, or chest, illustrating the story of Callisto as told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Jupiter seducing Callisto, also in the National Gallery, decorated the other end.

Arcas, son of Jupiter and Callisto, draws back his bow. A bear emerges from the woody undergrowth on the left. The green of the foliage surrounding the bear has darkened over time to brown, making it difficult to see. Gold leaf glimmers through the sunlit trees and a breeze sweeps back Arcas’s hair, which, like his bow, arrow and quiver, has been highlighted with gold. The delicate beauty of this scene belies the tragic events about to unfold.

The front of the cassone showed Callisto’s fellow nymphs revealing her pregnancy by Jupiter to the goddess Diana (Musée Picardie, Amiens). Furious, Diana turned Callisto into a bear. Here, Arcas goes out hunting and, not realising that the bear is his mother, he shoots her dead.

Key facts
Artist Andrea Schiavone
Artist dates active about 1530; died 1564
Full title Arcas Hunting
Series Two Mythological Scenes
Date made about 1550
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 18.8 x 18.4 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1860
Inventory number NG1883
Location in Gallery Room 6
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Two Mythological Scenes

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These are two of three paintings made to decorate the front and sides of a wooden chest, known in Italian as a cassone. They depict the story of the nymph Callisto, as told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Such chests were important pieces of furniture used for storing clothes and household linen. A bride would be given one by her parents as a wedding gift and she would take it with her to her marital home.

Jupiter seducing Callisto is the first episode depicted. While Callisto was resting in a leafy glade, Jupiter appeared disguised as Diana, goddess of chastity. He seduced Callisto and made her pregnant. In the long painting for the front of the cassone (Musée de Picardie, Amiens) Callisto’s fellow nymphs reveal her pregnancy to Diana. When Diana discovered that Callisto was pregnant, she turned her into a bear. In the third episode of the story the bear is shot dead by Callisto’s son Arcas, who does not realise that it is his mother.

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