The discovery of Callisto’s pregnancy

Hendrik Goltzius1599


Maastricht, Netherlands

The representation is derived from the story of Jupiter and Callisto, from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The story of Jupiter and Callisto tells how the ruler of the gods, Jupiter, who was also a master of disguise and adultery, came to Arcadia during his inspection of the world. There, he saw the young Callisto, a follower of the goddess of hunting, Diana, and immediately fell in love with her. Jupiter knew that if his wife Juno should discover his adultery, she would punish Callisto rather than him, so he indulged himself. Transformed into a young woman, he seduced Callisto and made her pregnant. Juno did find out, and changed Callisto, who had just given birth to her son Arcas, into a bear. When Arcas wanted to kill this bear later on, Jupiter prevented this by turning them both into constellations: the Great Bear and the Little Bear.

Out of the many episodes of this Story, Goltzius has chosen the moment that is ideally suited to depicting lots of female nudity. Diana and her retinue are cooling off in a lake. Callisto is reluctant to undress, for fear of discovery of her pregnancy, which she has managed to keep secret from Diana, who is the goddess not only of hunting, but also of chastity. The composition exists in several versions by several artists in drawing and painting.

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  • Title: The discovery of Callisto’s pregnancy
  • Creator: Environment of Hendrick Goltzius
  • Date: 1599
  • Physical Dimensions: 134 x 198,5 x 11 cm
  • Provenance: Loan Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands. © Peter Cox/Bonnefantenmuseum Maastricht
  • Medium: oil on panel