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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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