The Rape of Europa

The subject is taken from Ovid's 'Metamorphoses', which tells how the princess Europa was carried away from the coastal region of Tyre by the god Zeus who had transformed himself into a bull. We see her mounting the beast side-saddle in the foreground, and being carried away toward the sea in the lower left corner.

Veronese’s interpretation subtly negotiates the unsettling and the humorous. Europa is depicted in a state of partial undress, with her yellow mantle and belt lying on the ground. She appears somewhat nervous, or perhaps merely confused, at the business going on around her. Cupid ties a garland of flowers around the bull’s horns, while Europa’s handmaids position her on its back. A third catches fruit thrown by flying 'amorini' (or putti). The bull impatiently licks the princess’s foot.

This painting was highly esteemed in the 18th and early 19th century, but for most of the 20th century was considered as a reduction and reversal of Veronese's painting of the same subject in the Doge's Palace, Venice. Today it is generally regarded as autograph and may repeat an earlier conception of this subject.

Key facts

Artist dates
1528 - 1588
Full title
The Rape of Europa
Date made
about 1570
Medium and support
Oil on canvas glued to oak panel
59.5 x 70 cm
Acquisition credit
Holwell Carr Bequest, 1831
Inventory number
Location in Gallery

Further information

In depth