Art History Hotties: Leda and the Swan

7:00 AM

Peter Paul Rubens, Leda and the Swan, 1600
By KARL SHEERAN

Leave it to Rubens to paint an avian erotic scene of Leda and Zeus. Zeus allegedly rapes Leda but I’m sure he would give a different account of the story given the opportunity. She becomes pregnant with his children but also of her husband’s, Tyndareus, children. She gives birth to two sets of twins, Helen and Pollux, and then Castor and Clytemnestra. Some say that they were born of an egg that Leda laid but I don’t want to know how she anatomically managed to lay an egg that contained two babies.

Normally artists of the Renaissance were hesitant to paint scenes of explicit sex, but Rubens brings in a whole other element found taboo and bestial. I know how the public felt about public scenes of sex, but I can’t imagine how they felt about a woman ravaged by a swan. Most likely they skipped Sunday afternoon walks in the park for a while. Rubens actually created this painting after Michelangelo originally painted it, but Rubens added passion and excitement to the background that Michelangelo decidedly left out. He utilizes various shades of grey in the storm clouds to display the turmoil Leda feels at the moment.

Peter Paul Rubens constructs this scene, one normally of emotion and violence, into one of passion. Leda appears accepting of the swan, allowing him access to her, as her left arm casually lays to her side, demonstrating little to no resistance to Zeus’s form.

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