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The Rape of Europa

Martin de Vos

Amberes, Belgium, 1532-1603

The Rape of Europa

Oil on oak panel

133.7 x 174.5 cm


Donated by Horacio Echevarrieta in 1919

The theme represented by De Vos in this painting was related by Ovid in his Metamor-phoses. The god Jupiter, in love with Europa, daughter of the Phoenician King Agenor, turned into a bull to abduct her and take her to Crete, where he made her his. The young girl can be seen in the background, before the abduction, playing on the shore with her companions while Mercury glides in the sky surrounded by cupids, one of whom holds Jupiter’s rays in his hands. Martin de Vos was inspired by a composition painted by Titian between 1559 and 1562, at present kept at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Having reached his artistic maturity, he revealed his skill in the execution of grounds and of anecdotal details (in the purest Flemish tradition), and in the portrayal of the female nude. This figure is impeccably rendered in sfumato, and the light seems to emerge from the flesh through soft transparencies. The yellow robe and the undulating red cloth grant the composition its colour and movement. In short, this work—one of the best and most interesting of those by De Vos—reveals a perfect synthesis of Italian taste and his refined Flemish training. Martin de Vos probably began his career in the workshop run by his father, Pieter de Vos. He travelled to Italy around the year 1552 accompanying Pieter Brueghel the Elder, and settled in Rome and Florence. In Venice he worked in Tintoretto’s studio as a specialist in landscape painting. Upon his return to Antwerp in 1558 he became the most distinguished Italianate artist in the city. [A.S.L.]