In Greek legend, Eos, or Aurora, the goddess of dawn, falls in love with the mortal Tithonus, son of King Laomedon of Troy. According to the Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite, Aurora prevailed on Jupiter to grant the young human immortality, though later realized that she failed to stipulate his eternal youth in this request. To her horror, as their love affair continues, the once beautiful Tithonus begins to show signs of age. Solimena illustrates a moment later in the narrative, where, preparing to leave for earth to bring about the dawn, Aurora sits on a cloud while an angel crowns her with a wreath of flowers. She looms dominantly over her aged lover, who shields his eyes from the goddess’s brightness. The goddess, pained by Tithonus’ withering appearance and failing body, eventually decided to put him out of his misery and turned him into a grasshopper, to be reminded of him whenever she heard the insect’s song.

This large canvas, as well as the Death of Messalina and Venus at the Forge of Vulcan, also in the Getty Museum’s collection, were probably parts of a larger ensemble made for the Procurator, or state attorney, of Venice, Gerolamo Canale. The series may commemorate a marriage, since the pictures of Venus and Aurora both illustrate exchanges between goddesses and their lovers, while the Death of Messalina warns of the dangers of infidelity.


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