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Landscape with the Expulsion of the Harpies
Paolo Fiammingo
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As punishment for revealing the future to mankind, King Phineas of Thrace was blinded and had his food continually stolen by the harpies, who were half human and half bird. The story is told in the Argonautica, an epic romance written by Apollonius Rhodius during the third century BC.

A naked woman points to the sky as Zetes and Calais, the winged sons of Boreas, god of the north wind, put down food as bait to catch the dragon-like harpies. King Phineas stands beside the female figure of Fortune, pointing upward as the young Boreads launch themselves into the air to do battle in the clouds.

This painting and Landscape with a Scene of Enchantment (also in the National Gallery’s collection) may once have been part of a series of six or more paintings made to cover the upper walls of an entire room in a Venetian palace.

Key facts
Artist Paolo Fiammingo
Artist dates about 1540 - 1596
Full title Landscape with the Expulsion of the Harpies
Group Two Scenes from the Argonautica
Date made about 1590
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 185 x 206 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1944
Inventory number NG5467
Location in Gallery Gallery A: Paintings 1250-1600
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Two Scenes from the Argonautica

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These two very large canvases may once have been part of a series of perhaps six or more paintings which would have decorated the walls of a whole room in a Venetian palace, like wallpaper today. They were painted hastily using only a limited range of colours, which may be because they were intended as interior decoration rather than as gallery pictures.

Landscape with the Expulsion of the Harpies illustrates a scene from the Argonautica, an epic romance written by Apollonius Rhodius in the third century BC. The hybrid women in Landscape with a Scene of Enchantment could be beastly followers of Circe also described in the Argonautica (Book IV) and the sleeping man may be Odysseus. The very specific elements in this scene suggest that it illustrates a particular story, although we do not know which one.

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