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The Abduction of Helen
Probably by Zanobi Strozzi
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The unusual shape of this picture is the first clue to its purpose, and the lively literary story painted upon it, the second. It was probably made as a commemorative but also functional household object, known as a birth tray or desco da parto. Such trays were given as gifts to celebrate a pregnancy or the birth of a child and would have been used to bring food and gifts to the expectant mother. In the centre of the image, a woman with three feathers in her hat is carried on the shoulders of a young man towards a boat moored at the island. The woman is the beautiful Helen, wife of the Greek king Menelaus captured by the Trojan prince, Paris. He awaits, dressed in armour, by the boat. According to the author of this particular version of the story, popular in Strozzi’s time, this was the moment the pair fell in love. Strozzi, who also painted manuscript illuminations, has included lots of small details – the boats in the sea, flowers on the lawn, and the little child fleeing the scene – to delight his client.

Key facts
Artist Probably by Zanobi Strozzi
Artist dates 1412 - 1468
Full title The Abduction of Helen
Date made about 1450-5
Medium and support Egg tempera on wood
Dimensions 51 x 60.8 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1857
Inventory number NG591
Location in Gallery Room 59
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