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Panorama with the Abduction of Helen Amidst the Wonders of the Ancient World

Maarten van Heemskerck1535 (Renaissance)

The Walters Art Museum
Baltimore, United States

Heemskerck painted this homage to ancient art in Rome, where he traveled to study antiquities as well as the work of contemporary masters such as Michelangelo (1475-1564). 16th- or 17th-century Europeans could call on this celebration of ancient ingenuity to validate their own. In 1535, when Heemskerck painted this panorama to complement Cardinal Ridolfo Pio's famous collection of antiquities, scholars were still disputing which of these monuments were the most marvelous. Heemskerck's interpretation of the narrative, the abduction of Helen, queen of the Greek city-state Sparta, by Paris, a prince of Troy in Asian Minor, an epic that stretches across the ancient world to Rome itself, was influenced by versions of the story that set events among the marvels of heroic achievements of the ancient world. This luminous panorama is one of the most famous Northern landscapes of the 1500s; its array of ancient marvels and evidence of antiquity's greatness provided a picture-puzzle for the viewer, challenging him to locate and identify the pieces. In Greek and Roman literature a rainbow was evidence that the messenger goddess Iris, identified by her multicolored mantle, was on her way to deliver a message. In this story, she alerted Helen's husband Menelaus who was away from home when the abduction took place.

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  • Title: Panorama with the Abduction of Helen Amidst the Wonders of the Ancient World
  • Date Created: 1535 (Renaissance)
  • Physical Dimensions: w383.5 x h147.3 cm
  • Type: painting
  • Rights: Acquired by Henry Walters with the Massarenti Collection, 1902, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/
  • External Link: The Walters Art Museum
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Provenance: Don Marcello Massarenti Collection, Rome; Henry Walters, Baltimore, 1902, by purchase; Walters Art Museum, 1931, by bequest.
  • Place of Origin: Rome, Italy
  • Inscriptions: [Signature] On the ship in right foreground: Martin van Heemskerck; [Date] On the ship in right foreground: 1536; [Signature] In bundle of rowboats in center foreground: MH; [Date] In bundle of rowboats in center foreground: 1535
  • ExhibitionHistory: World of Wonder. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1971-1972; Undercover Stories in Art. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1980; Art Before the Iconoclasm: Northern Netherlandish Art 1525-1580. Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, Amsterdam. 1986; A Renaissance Puzzle: Heemskerck's Abduction of Helen. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1993; Fiamminghi a Roma 1508-1608. Palais des beaux-arts (Brussels, Belgium), Brussels; Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome. 1995; Highlights from the Collection. The Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore. 1998-2001
  • Artist: Maerten van Heemskerck

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