OK, so you’re Jupiter, the most powerful of Roman gods (Zeus in the Greek stories), and apparently the randiest as well, and you’d like to add the beautiful but shy river goddess Io to your long list of conquests; most of whom you’ve caged into a liaison by some form of deception or disguise. What to do…?
Let’s see now,… you did the turning into as a swan routine with Leda, appeared in drag as Diana, goddess of chastity, to seduce Callisto, came on to Antiope as a satyr, turned into a golden shower to reach Danae in her tower (OK, stop that snickering in the back row), and did the abduction thing with Europa,… what’s left?
Hey! How about appearing as a cloud and wrapping Io in your airy but irresistible embrace before she realizes that she’s been had. By Jove, that’s a great idea!
Apparently 16th Century painter Antonio di Pellegrino Allegri, who is known by “Correggio”, the name of his native town, thought so too, and made the story of Jupiter and Io the subject of the most striking of a series of paintings of the “Loves of Jupiter” commissioned by Federigo Gonzaga in the early 1500’s. The others included The Abduction of Ganymede, Leda and the Swan and Danae.
The painting of Jupiter seducing Io in the form of a cloud is striking in its depiction of the god’s countenance emerging from the cloud to kiss Io’s sensually upturned face, the beautiful modeling and delicate tones of her figure, luminous against the contrast of the dark cloud and the bizarre cloud/hand that enfolds her. The original is in the Kunsthstoriches Museum in Vienna.
Correggio was a masterful painter of the High Renaissance who was most active in the city of Parma. His influences included Mantegna and Leonardo, whose impact you can see in the delicate rendering of faces, hand positions and sfumato technique in Correggio’s early works. In his later career Correggio’s daring use of perspective, brilliant colors and dramatic compositions heralded the arrival of the Baroque period.
One of the most notable of Correggio’s works is the Assumption of the Virgin, painted on the inside of the cupola of the cathedral of Parma. In this large scale fresco (35′ x 40′, 11m x 12m) he creates an astonishing illusionary space in which your view is lifted into a swirling vault of clouds, ringed with angels and saints and blazing with a core of heavenly light.
I’ve listed some resources for Correggio below, including a posting of quotes from the chapter on him from Vasari’s Lives of the Artists. Correggio also left some masterful drawings, though I haven’t had much luck finding examples of them on the web. Try searcing Amazon and others for books.
And what of Io? Well, in addition to having her story be the subject of numerous other paintings, she had the Ionian Sea is named after her passage, as well having one of the innermost moons of the planet Jupiter named after her by Galileo. And while most of the 63 (count ’em) moons of the largest planet in our neighborhood are named after Jupiter’s female conquests, Io is notable as the most volcanically active body in the Solar System. Hot love, indeed.
Meanwhile, what happens to poor innocently seduced Io in the next exciting episode of The Loves of Jupiter? Well, we have the sitcom-like scene in which Jupiter turns Io into a cow (yes, a cow) before jealous wife Juno arrives on the scene. Juno susses the deal and asks Jupiter for the gift of simple cow, which he can’t refuse, of course, and Juno puts the lock on Io by putting her under the watchful eyes of Argos, who has a hundred of ’em (eyes, that is) and never closes more than a couple at a time. The guardian is later lulled to sleep by Mercury with music and stories, Mercury lops off his head and Io is released; and eventually, in some accounts, becomes the first queen of Egypt. And you thought Desperate Housewives had outrageous plots.