The Myth of Leda and the Swan in Cinquecento Italian Art



Leda was the daughter Thestios, the King of Pleuron. She was married to Tyndareus, king of Sparta and was apparently so beautiful, that she was pursued by Zeus, who seduced her in the guise of a swan. 

As a consequence of this union, Leda is said to have birthed a pair of eggs, from which emerged the Dioscuri, Castor and Pollux, Clytemnestra and the legendary Helen of Troy.

Mentioned in Homeric tales and the works of Euripides, Strabo, Apollodorus, Pausanias and Hyginus, Leda and the myths surrounding her seduction became popular subjects for artists, north and south of the Alps, from the thirteenth century onwards. 









Images: Attributed to Paolo Veronese, Leda and the Swan, oil on wood, Musée Fesch, Corsica. Wikimedia Commons. 

Jacopo Pontormo, Leda and the Swan, 1512-13, oil on wood, 55 x 40 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Web Gallery of Art.

Attributed to Benvenuto Cellini, Leda and the Swan, c. 1528-1529, gold relief in jewelled cap badge, formerly in the collection of the Marchese Strozzi, Florence. Wikimedia Commons. 

Leonardo da Vinci, Leda, 1508-1515, oil on panel, 130 x 77.5 cm, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence. Web Gallery of Art.

Michelangelo Buonaroti, Study for Leda’s Head, 1529-30, red chalk on parchment, 355 x 270 mm, Casa Buonarroti, Florence. Web Gallery of Art.

Antonio da Correggio, Leda and the Swan, c.1530, oil on canvas, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. Wikimedia Commons.

Raphael Santi, Leda and the Swan, 1505-07, pen and ink over chalk, 310 x 192 mm, Royal Collection, Windsor. Web Gallery of Art.

Giampietrino, Leda and her Children, c. 1520, oil on wood, 128 x 106 cm, Staatliche Museen, Kassel. Web Gallery of Art.


References: Jane Davidson Reid with the assistance of Chris Rohmann, The Oxford Guide to Classical Mythology 1300-1900, Volume II, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1993. 


Posted by Samantha Hughes-Johnson

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