The Abduction of Europa (1632) by Rembrandt Harmensz. van RijnThe J. Paul Getty Museum
A peaceful trip to the seaside together. Yet, something seems to upset this idyllic setting…
A bull is dragging one of the young women in the sea! She’s Europa: princess of the city of Tyre. In the Metamorphoses, Ovid tells us that she was abducted and whisked off by Zeus, who had changed himself into this animal.
She’s terrified: clinging to the white fur, she turns her desperate look to her mates. The wind blows up her dress and ruffles her hair.
Rembrandt adopts the typical artifices of Baroque painting to captivate us: the composition is dynamic, animated by stark contrasts of light and shadow and it’s focused on the dramatic expression of feelings.
The realistic rendering of the abduction reigns in the painting, as if the circumstances were actually real: even the charioteer in dim light on the carriage – item contemporary to the artist – stands up agitated.
The handmaids aren’t depicted as women of Greek antiquity, but as baroque beauties in sumptuous dresses with brocades and golden threads.
This coexistence of present and past touches every detail. What will be the city shrouded in fog in the background? Ancient Tyre or seventeenth-century Amsterdam?
With its intense chiaroscuro accentuations, the landscape is gloomy and unsettling, in line with the princess’ mood of dismay and fear.
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