The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus

Category: Criminology
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The Baroque Period, named after the style, was when artists and musicians in Europe used embellished motion and clear detail to produce drama, tension, enthusiasm, and splendor in sculpture, painting, literature, dance, and music. Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was a Dutch Baroque painter and printmaker who preferred uncompromising realism to idealize beauty, possessed extraordinary skill in his ability to paint people in their various moods and dramatic guises (McDaniel). Sir Peter Paul Rubens was a Flemish artist that was considered the most influential regarding Flemish Baroque art. His focus was on mythological figures like Leda in Leda and the Swan, religious figures such as Saint George in Saint George Battles the Dragon, and diplomatic figures of the time such as King Philip IV and Elisabeth of France (Viladesau). Rijn’s The Abduction of Europa and Rubens’s The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus Both artists show the shift in thought that occurred during the Baroque Period when both presented their figures with an extensive attention to detail, utilized artistic techniques like chiaroscuro, naturalism to accent their paintings, and based their paintings of the stories of mythological figures.

Though Rijn seldom did paintings of mythological subjects in, The Abduction of Europa, he displays the narrative through the dramatic motions and visual effects of the characters. In the painting, the bemused Europa is seen grasping the bull’s right horn, digging her nails into his neck and looking back at her distressed aides. The aide in blue has fallen to the ground, dropping the flower garland, and is raising her arms in a shocked state, while the aide in red clasps her hands in consternation and can only watch helplessly as Europa is being carried away. The carriage driver above rises to his feet and the figure in the yellow hunches back as both stare at the departing princess in dismay. The background of the painting shows a city looking to be shrouded in mist which extends along the horizon, serving as an insinuation to the ancient Tyre. The shadowy thicket of trees to the right contrasts with the pink and blue regions of the sea and sky. While sunlight breaks through the clouds on the far left, its presence mirrors off the water, but the sky behind the trees is dark and gives off a foreboding atmosphere.

While Rijn rarely made paintings on mythological subjects, Rubens was quite proficient in the matter and like Rijn, Rubens could express the narrative through emotion and visual effects. In The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus, the emphasis of detail is given to the perpetrators, Castor and Pollux. Castor, being a horse tamer, is displayed in armor riding his obedient horse grabbing the struggling Hilaeira. While Pollux, being a boxer, has a bare chest and a rearing white horse, grabbing the flailing Phoebe. Though the women in the painting lack any distrighing detail to separate the two, according to myths of Castor and Pollux, Phoebe would birth a son, Mnesleos, to Pollux, and Hilaeira would birth a son, Anogon, to Castor.

Rijn’s painting can be viewed as a reflection of the influence of the Baroque art style by how naturalism plays an important part into its configuration. The tranquil shoreline and the comprehensive reflections of the figures in the water give emphasis to the importance of an authentic depiction of the narriative. Rijn goes so far as to include clear reflection of the figures on the water’s surface, Europa’s dress has golden threads, and even going so far as to having her jewelry reflecting some of the light of the sun. Rembrandt also makes use of chiaroscuro, the contrast of light and shade, by contrasting the dark shadows of the trees with the light blues and pinks of the sky. In all, the artistic interests of the baroque artists like landscapes, mythological figures and stories can all be found within this painting.

In The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus, Rubens made the painting by utilized the forms of the figures and arranging them to create a dynamic, like a bouquet of flowers, yet stable composition. He also matched the heroic splendor of the mythological figures found in Renaissance art by giving the two brothers tanned muscular bodies yet somewhat clothed and giving a strong contrast with the white, incandescent figures of their nude victims. Rubens had applied a myriad of colors to the faces to express signs of a struggle as well as the clothing, horses, sky, and grassland to express the naturalism attending to the overall drama in the painting. Rubens utilizes the numerous colors used to accent details, and the strong diagonal lines in the overall composition to give it the acquired form. However, it’s the clashing of textures between victim and perpetrator and twisted exaggerated forms of the characters that give life to this Greco-Roman drama in a way that can best be done in the Baroque style.

Rijn’s painting tells the tale of Zeus’s seduction and capture of Europa. It depicts a scene on the shore with Europa being carried away in rough waters by Zeus, transformed into a white bull, while her friends on the shoreline have looks of dismay and fear of Europa’s safety. The origin of The Abduction of Europa and the inspiration of the painting is Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In Metamorphoses, specifically Book II of the Divine Comedy, states that Zeus was smitten with Europa and decided to seduce her. Zeus then transformed into a white bull and mixed in with the herds of Europa’s father. While Europa and her aides were gathering flowers, she saw the bull, stroked his flanks, and eventually got onto his back. Zeus took that opportunity to ran to the sea with her on his back and swam to the island of Crete. He then revealed himself, and Europa became the first queen of Crete. Zeus gave her a necklace made by Hephaestus and three additional gifts, a giant bronze automaton to protect her named Talos, Laelaps, a hound who was never unsuccessful in catching what she was hunting, and a javelin, or pilum that never missed. Zeus then reproduced the figure of the white bull in the stars, which would be later known as the constellation Taurus (Stone).

Ruben’s painting depicts the twin half-brothers, the mortal Castor and the immortal Pollux, abducting Phoebe and Hilaeira, daughters of Leucippus of Messenia. According to Ovid and Theocritus, Zeus disguised himself as a swan and seduced the Spartan queen, Leda. Their consummation resulted in two eggs from which hatched Helen of Troy, Clytemnestra, and the twins, Castor and Pollux. While Tyndareus, the king of Sparta, was the father of Castor, making him mortal, Zeus was the father of Pollux, which made him a demigod. Far along in life, Castor and Pollux aspired to marry the Leucippides, Phoebe and Hilaeira, whose father was a brother of Leucippus. Despite their desires, the fact remained that Phoebe and Hilaeira were already betrothed to cousins of the Dioscuri, the twin brothers Lynceus and Idas of Thebes. Castor and Pollux decided to carry the women off to Sparta, as shown in the painting, wherein each had a son. The act would prove to be costly as Castor would be fatally wounded by Idas. Just as Idas was about to kill Pollux, Zeus, hurled a thunderbolt, killing Idas and saving his son. Returning to the fatally wounded Castor, Pollux was given the choice by their father to either spend the remainder of his time on Mount Olympus or giving half his immortality to save his mortal brother. He chose the latter option, which enabled the twins to alternate between Olympus and Hades. The brothers then became the two brightest stars in the constellation known as Gemini (Alpers).

Though their exquisite usage of artistic techniques, attention to fine details in their paintings, and their ability to take a part of a narrative and paint it in a dramatic manner, Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn and Sir Peter Paul Rubens are considered some of the best, if not the best, Baroque artists of their times. Their paintings, Rijn’s The Abduction of Europa and Rubens’s The Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus, serve as prime examples of the shift in thought that occur during the Baroque Period. The mythological topics they picked allowed them gave them the basis to translate a dramatic narrative into visual masterpieces. Their usage of the Baroque art techniques, such as naturalism, allowed them to give a more realistic feel to their paintings and express a sensuous richness and emotional exuberance. What completes this plethora of vitality is the attention to the finer details that truly convey the movement, tension, and grandeur of the paintings that match their origin stories.

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