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Jacopo Tintoretto, 'The Origin of the Milky Way', about 1575

Key facts
Full title The Origin of the Milky Way
Artist Jacopo Tintoretto
Artist dates about 1518 - 1594
Date made about 1575
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 149.4 × 168 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1890
Inventory number NG1313
Location Room 9
Collection Main Collection
The Origin of the Milky Way
Jacopo Tintoretto

The god Jupiter wished to immortalise his infant son Hercules, whose mother was the mortal Alcmene, so he held him to the breast of his sleeping wife, the goddess Juno, to drink her milk. However, Juno woke. The milk which spurted upwards formed the Milky Way, while that which fell downwards gave rise to lilies.

Tintoretto’s painting has been cut down by about a third and what we see now is only the upper part of the original. In the missing lower part, known from a seventeenth-century copy, Ops, the embodiment of Earth and mother of Juno and Jupiter, reclines on a bank beside white flowers. The scene relates to a medal commemorating Tintoretto’s patron, the physician Tommaso Rangone. It is likely that the painting is also connected to Rangone; stars and flowers were both central to his learning.

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