Bequest of the Honorable James Bowdoin III1811.23
This red chalk drawing of the abduction of Europa by Jupiter, who has disguised himself as a white bull, differs markedly from most other visualizations of the myth, which is recounted in the concluding lines of Book II from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Here Europa fades into the distance, vanishing over the sea on the bull’s back. With a slumping posture and leaden limbs, Europa herself seems little distressed by her swift passage away from the shore. This popular story of the mythic foundation of Europe appealed to many artists. Titian’s great painting in Boston and Veronese’s and Guido Reni’s works in London are three of the finest depictions of this theme. The early Hendrick Goltzius (1558–1617) studio print of the story is all frothing whitecaps, undulant bovine tail, and fluttering drapery, highlighting Europa and her false-bull conveyance.
The son of the wealthy merchant and second governor of Massachusetts, James Bowdoin II, Bowdoin figured among a small group of leading figures who recognized the value of art in fostering enlightened ideals and philosophical contemplation among a budding republic.