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The Rape of Europa

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (painted)

  • Date:

    1710-1720 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Gobert, Pierre, born 1662 - died 1744 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John Jones

  • Museum number:

    549-1882

  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 5, The Friends of the V&A Gallery, case WS

This painting probably depicts a members of the royal family in the guise of Europa ravished by Jupiter changed into a bull. This category is called portrait historié and was praised during the 18th century. It is difficult to identify the sitter although the name of Louise Elisabeth d'Orléans, Duchesse de Berri (1695-1719), grand-child of Louis XIV has been suggested. Pierre Gobert achieved a great success as a portrait painter and was a member of the Académie Royale in 1701. He ran a large studio and was regarded as the foremost portrait painter of his time.

Physical description

The painting depicts a group of five women - the most prominent (Europa), at the centre of the image rides a bull (Jupiter in the form of a Bull). Her pastel-pink mantle billows around her and her left arm reaches forward to grasp the bull's right horn. She looks out of the canvas directly at the viewer. Three of the remaining four women appear on the central figure's left. One kneels on the ground with her arms outstretched toward the central figure, a second extends her left arm across the first woman's back and the third, positioned behind them, reaches out her right arm while gazing at the central figure. The woman to the right of the central figure has both arms raised and also looks toward the central figure on the bull. The fragmentary figure of a cupid is visible at the right edge of the canvas. There are flowers in the left foreground and a building in the background at the top left.

Place of Origin

Paris (painted)

Date

1710-1720 (painted)

Artist/maker

Gobert, Pierre, born 1662 - died 1744 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

oil on canvas

Dimensions

Height: 124 cm estimate, Width: 157.5 cm estimate, Height: 1530 mm frame, Width: 1875 mm frame, Depth: 100 mm frame

Object history note

Bequeathed by John Jones, 1882

Historical context note

This painting was ascribed to Pierre Gobert on the basis of stylistic similarities with Mademoiselle de Blois as Leda and her Children formerly in the Prado Museum, Madrid, attributed to Pierre Gobert in 1747 in the palace inventory.

The painting depicts the rape of Europa, a tale from the Greek mythology narrated in Ovid's Metamorphosis (2:836-875). Jupiter, disguising himself as a white bull, came to where Europa played by the seashore and ravished her to Crete.

This painting is most likely a portrait historié, a genre seeking to elevate the portrait by association with history painting. Europa is here probably embodied by one of the close members of the royal family. An old label reads the inscription: 'Madame du Barry as Europa' but Madame du Barry was not born until 1746 and this painting may have been executed around the same time as the Prado one, between 1710 and 1720. It may therefore represent Marie Louise Elisabeth d'Orléans, Duchesse de Berri (1695-1719), daughter of Philippe Duc d'Orléans, Regent of France, and mademoiselle de Blois, daughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. A passage in the Mémoires de la Comtesse de Genlis (I, 1825, p. 376), made reference to the Duchesse de Berri having been depicted as Europa (Mrs Guy Wyndham, written communication, 1957). Another proposed candidate is Mademoiselle de Nantes, Duchesse de Bourbon (1673-1743), sister of mademoiselle de Blois.

This painting is a fine example of the fashionable portrait historié, a genre in which the sitter assumes a role in disguise. This category allows the sitter to be projected into a world of fantasy and be seen as a heroe, god or goddess. This trend suits particularly the Rococo taste for recreating the Roman and Greek golden age in idyllic settings.

Descriptive line

Oil on canvas, 'The rape of Europa', attributed to Pierre Gobert, 1710-1720

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

C.M. Kauffmann,Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London, 1973, pp. 133-5 cat. no. 153.
A. de Champeaux, 'Le Legs Jones au South Kensington Museum' in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, xxvii, 1883, p. 430.
B. Long, Catalogue of the Jones Collection, London, 1923, p. 52, pl. 28.
M. Nicolle, La peinture française au Musée du Prado, 1925, p. 18 f.
V. & A. Museum, French paintings, 1949, pl. 6.
C. M. Kauffmann in Apollo, xcv, 1972, p. 180, fig. 6.
Juan J. Luna, 'Pinturas de Pierre Gobert en España', Archivo español de arte, 49 (1976), pp. 363-385, esp. p. 373.

Materials

Oil paint; Canvas

Techniques

Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Flowers; Seashore; Castle; Cherub; Garland; Bull

Categories

Myths & Legends; Paintings; Portraits; Gender and Sexuality

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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