The Origin of the Milky Way (about 1575) by Jacopo TintorettoThe National Gallery, London
How are stars born? Science can give us the correct explanation, but Greek mythology told its own allegorical story, and inspired great art.
According to the myth, the Milky Way was created from Hera breastfeeding Heracles. And in this painting, we see the stars rising heavenward from the goddess.
Zeus leads the infant, and our eyes, to the center of the scene. How did Tintoretto manage to convey a flying figure with such precision? He did it by sculpting wax statues as models and hanging them in the air by threads!
Hera’s sophisticated hairdo recalls the sixteenth-century Venetian court style.
If Zeus catches our eye through his movement, the goddess does so with her luminous aura. Color and volume stand out with force thanks to the stark contrasts of shadow and light.The tones are evenly applied in the complexion, varied in the drapery.
The gods are surrounded by peacocks, Cupids, and an eagle. These creatures are a net of allegoric references to Zeus and Hera, and Love in general. The symbols also reflect the courtiers’ erudite tastes, and those of the emperor Rudolf II himself, who commissioned the painting.
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