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Greek and Roman Mythology

From the beginning of time, or at least the beginnings of art, there have been, broadly speaking, four areas of painting content--contemporary, religious, mythological, and formalistic. The earliest cave paintings were contemporary, dealing with current events or recent history. Religious works dealt entirely with various deities. Mythological works probably grew out of Greek religious content but came to prominence in Western art long after they had lost any religious following. And finally, in this century, came formalistic content in which the subject of the art is art itself. At various times though history, several of these areas have dominated art. If we count painting as having come into its own during the Renaissance, then we find much of it religious, with mythology running a distant second but gaining ground. With the Reformation, contemporary content slowly began to dominate. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, mythology replaced religion and contemporary subjects as the artist's subject of choice. Since Impressionism, contemporary subject matter has seesawed back and forth with newly important formalistic concerns while religion and mythology in art became practically non-existent. That's a brief, breathless history of art in one short blurb.

Today, while there, in fact, continues to be a small religious presence in painting, mythology is dead. Sandro Botticelli is credited with having painted the first revival of mythological content since Roman times with his Primavera (1481). In modern times, Valentin Alexandrovich Serov with his The Rape of Europa in 1910 may well have been the last artist to seriously explore Greek mythology in painting. In between, there was the exuberance of Raphael's Galatea (1506), the careful, narrative choreography of Guido Reni's Atalanta and Hippomenes (1612), the Rococo fantasy of Boucher's Triumph of Venus, (1740) and the medieval longings of Edward Burne-Jones' King Arthur in Avalon.

That's not to say we have no taste for mythology today. Movies and television love it. But movies and television are well suited for telling the moralistic stories for which mythology is famous. It's entertaining, intellectual, adventurous, sexually exciting escapism. Today, painting takes itself too seriously for any such foolishness. Moreover, today, if artists even know or care about mythology, they are ill-equipped to deal with it visually. Painted mythology demands a familiarity with the subject matter that most people (including artists) simply don't have. Or, it demands the ability and willingness on the part of the painter to visually expound upon the antiquated arcanities of the subject which few if any artists possess. All of which would be of little consequence except that with religious painting seemingly following the same path to oblivion, we find relegated to benign obscurity fully half the traditional subject areas of the painter's art. And that's both sad and frightening.

contributed by Lane, Jim

12 January 2001

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Abduction of Ganymede (Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn)
Achilles and the Centaur Chiron (Pompeo Girolamo Batoni)
Achilles at the Court of Lycomedes (Pompeo Girolamo Batoni)
Acme and Septimius (Lord Frederic Leighton)
Aeneas Carrying Anchises (Charles-André van Loo)
Andromache and Astyanax (Pierre-Paul Prud'hon)
Apollo (Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini)
Apollo and Daphne (Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini)
Ariadne (John William Waterhouse)
Bacchanal (Francesco Zuccarelli)
Bacchanal: A Faun Teased by Children (Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini)
Bacchanalian Scene (Alessandro Magnasco)
Cupid and Psyche (Baron François Gérard)
Cupid Seducing Innocence (Pierre-Paul Prud'hon)
Danae (Gustav Klimt)
Danae (Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn)
Danaë (Tiziano Vecelli (Titian))
Danaid (Auguste Rodin)
Diana & Cupid (Pompeo Girolamo Batoni)
Diana and Endymion (Walter Crane)
Diana at Rest (Jean-François de Troy)
Diana's Return from the Hunt (François Boucher)
Die Vermählung Amors mit Psyche (Pompeo Girolamo Batoni)
Drunken Silenus (Charles-André van Loo)
Drunken Silenus (Peter Paul Rubens)
Endymion Asleep (Anne-Louis Girodet-Trioson)
Fallen Caryatid (Auguste Rodin)
Hercules and Omphale (François le Moyne)
Hylas and the Nymphs (John William Waterhouse)
Juno Discovering Jupiter with Io (Pieter Lastman)
Jupiter & Antiope (Jean-Antoine Watteau)
Jupiter and Io (Antonio Allegri Correggio)
Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen (Sir Joshua Reynolds)
Lady Sarah Bunbury Sacrificing to the Graces (Sir Joshua Reynolds)
Landscape with the Education of Bacchus (Francesco Zuccarelli)
Landscape with the Funeral of Phocion (Nicolas Poussin)
Laocoon (Domenikos Theotokopoulos (El Greco))
Leda & the Swan (François Boucher)
Leda and the Swan (Jean Louis André Théodore Géricault)
Marie Adelaide of France as Diana (Jean-Marc Nattier)
Marie Adelaide of France as Flora (Jean-Marc Nattier)
Medea (Anthony Frederick Sandys)
Mirror of Venus (Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones)
Mrs Peter Beckford (Sir Joshua Reynolds)
Oedipus Cursing His Son, Polynices (Henry Fuseli)
Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld (Camille Corot)
Pallas Athene (Gustav Klimt)
Parnassus (Andrea Mantegna)
Penelope (Anthony Frederick Sandys)
Perseus and Andromeda (Anton Raphael Mengs)
Perseus and Andromeda (François le Moyne)
Priam Pleading with Achilles for the Body of Hector (Gavin Hamilton)
Psyche Entering Cupid's Garden (John William Waterhouse)
Pygmalian and Galatea (Jean Léon Gérôme)
Pygmalion Seeing His Statue Come to Life (François le Moyne)
Rape of Europa (Tiziano Vecelli (Titian))
Sick Bacchus (Michelangelo Merisi (Caravaggio))
Sleeping Venus (Giorgio Barbarelli (Giorgione))
The Abduction of Psyche (Sir Adolph William Bouguereau)
The Apotheosis of Romulus (Sir James Thornhill)
The Bath of Psyche (Lord Frederic Leighton)
The Birth of Venus (Alexandre Cabanel)
The Birth of Venus (Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi (Botticelli))
The Fisherman and the Siren (Lord Frederic Leighton)
The Flaying of Marsyas (Tiziano Vecelli (Titian))
The Judgement of Paris (Claude Gellée, Le Lorrain)
The Mermaid (Howard Pyle)
The Origin of the Milky Way (Jacopo Robusti (Tintoretto))
The Rape of Europa (Giambattista Tiepolo)
The Rape of Europa (Francesco Zuccarelli)
The Renaissance of Venus (Walter Crane)
The Return of Persephone (Lord Frederic Leighton)
The Sacrifice of Polyxena (Giovanni Battista Pittoni)
The Three Graces (Peter Paul Rubens)
The Three Graces (Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael))
The Toilet of Venus (François Boucher)
The Toilet of Venus (François Boucher)
The Triumph of Zephyr and Flora (Giambattista Tiepolo)
The Venus of Urbino (Tiziano Vecelli (Titian))
The Wheel of Fortune (Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones)
Thetis Accepting the Shield of Achilles from Vulcan (Sir James Thornhill)
Venus and Cupid (Lucas Cranach (the Elder))
Venus and Cupid (Benjamin West)
Venus Between Terminal Gods (Aubrey Beardsley)
Venus Imploring Jupiter in Favour of Aeneas (Antoine Coypel)
Venus, Adonis, and Cupid (Annibale Carracci)
Young Greek Maidens Deck Sleeping Cupid With Flowers (Joseph Marie Vien)
Zodiac Man as Mirror of Earth and Stars (Limbourg Brothers)


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