Anthony van Dyck, Jupiter and Antiope, MSK, Ghent.

HISTORY PAINTING: Mythology

Mythological pieces are in the first place of the taste of a clientele that is connected to the court. Rubens produces impressive mythologically tinted cycles for rulers such as Maria de'Medici, Lodewijk XIII, Charles I of England and Philip IV of Spain. These monumental series are taken up as propaganda and legitimise or even glorify the power of the people portrayed.

Ancient Greek mythology, the history of Rome and moralistic or political allegories inspired by the Classical Philosophy are the ideal illustration material for Glorious Entrances, or serve as decoration of city halls or other buildings of the governing bodies of the citizenry. The mythological story matter is used to deliver a moral lesson. Not only paintings, but also wall tapestries are quite suitable for executing mythological scenes.

During the 17th Century, the importance for the rich patricians for works of art with mythological themes grew under the influence of the Neo-Stoicism of Justus Lipsius (1532-1599) and a broader Humanistic education. The possession of such art indicates erudition and intellectual prestige and is used as a manner of promotion on a social-community level. Via the acquisition of such specialised art, one imitates the highest classes.

In addition to morality lessons and an image of erudition, mythological pieces may also have a connection with the erotic.

Matthias Depoorter