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Guido Reni, The Rape of Europa

Key facts
Full title The Rape of Europa
Artist Guido Reni
Artist dates 1575 - 1642
Date made 1637-9
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 177 × 129.5 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by the Trustees of Sir Denis Mahon's Charitable Trust through the Art Fund, 2013
Inventory number NG6642
Location Room 32
Collection Main Collection
The Rape of Europa
Guido Reni

This painting depicts the mythological story of Europa, daughter of the King of Tyre, who, while playing on the seashore one day, was approached by a docile bull. Draping a flower garland on its horns, Europa unsuspectingly climbed onto its back. The bull, who was in fact the god Jupiter in disguise, carried her off to Crete. We see the moment of her abduction, just before her alarm turns to love.

Guido Reni’s biographer, Carlo Cesare Malvasia, cites three versions of the Rape of Europa painted by Reni for great personages; this work has been identified as the one delivered to King Wladislaw of Poland shortly before 1640. Its luminous tonality and cool, pale colouring are in keeping with the artist’s late style, supporting the theory that it was made around 1640. During this period of his career, Reni’s palette became notably lighter. He rendered figures in broad strokes of pale opaque colour, giving careful attention to the statuesque elegance of poses and draperies.

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