Failing to win the hand of the lovely Athenian princess Orethyia, one of the daughters of King Erechtheus, by gentle means, Boreas, the cold wind god of the North, decided to revert to his true nature of wildness and cold rage.
The story is told by Ovid in the sixth book of the Metamorphoses, and Boucher admirably evokes the passion and fury of the tale. Boreas swoops down, concealed by dark and stormy clouds, and forcibly snatches up Oreithyia as she gathers flowers with her sisters. Boreas carried her back to his northern realm, where she later bore him twin sons, an event suggested by the putto’s two torches. The felled tree in the foreground, which leads the viewer into the composition, is one of the gnarled oaks that Boreas, in his violence, brought crashing down.