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An East Roman Mosaic depicting the abduction of Europa, ca 1st century AD

here we see Europa, daughter of the Phoenician king Agenor, being whisked away on the back of the god Zeus, who has assumed the form of a bull. The bull is in right profile, his head facing forward, a quite wicked look on his face. Whereas, Europa is portrayed frontally, seated on the bull looking back at the abandoned shore from whence she has been stolen, her left hand grips a horn, the other a garland of flowers with, as Ovid states, "her clothes fluttering, winding, behind her in the breeze" thus providing an elegant, circular coherence to the composition.

Background:  According to Greek mythology, the Phoenician princess Europa, daughter of King Agenor of Phoenicia (today the coastal region of Lebanon and part of Syria) was one of the many objects of affection of Olympian god Zeus.  Infatuated by her striking beauty and grace, Zeus transformed himself into a handsome white bull.  While the young maiden was gathering flowers, she saw the bull, and – fascinated by its handsome flanks and gentle behavior - caressed him and sat on his back.  The Bull immediately went into the sea, brought Europa  to Crete, set her down on a plane tree and seduced her. Princess Europa finally lived in Crete and gave birth to three children who became kings. One of these was Minos, founder of the famous Minoan civilisation. Her other two children were Rhadamanthus and Sarpedon. Zeus entrusted Europa to Asterius, King of Crete, whom she married but had no children. « ... after this, Asterius, King of Crete married Europa. Being childless he adopted the children of Zeus and left them heirs to his kingdom ... » (Diodoros Siceliotis, 4, 59, 3).

"The oldest surviving pictorial representation of the myth of Europa and the Bull dates from the seventh century BC; from then on the employment of the image in decoration became widespread and pan-Hellenic. It was popular in early Etruscan art, and especially in Crete, while on the back of the conquests of Alexander the Great it found its way as far east as Babylon. It is found in all forms of ancient art, and was later spread by the Romans all over their empire. Its principal use was decorative, but the eroticism of the story was also of interest. For example, the Roman versions under Augustus were relatively chase; the ones under the more relaxed moral regime of Nero were more overtly sexual in their content." from Wintle, Michael, " Europa and the bull, Europe, and European studies: visual images as historical source material” [electronic resource] Amsterdam University Press, 2004. 

Dimensions:    Width:  27 ¾ in (70.5 cm)  Height:  25 ¾ in (65.4 cm)

Condition:  A few tessera missing that does not detract, otherwise intact and in very good condition overall.  A very good example.

Provenance:   Private collection of an archeologist, acquired from the NYC trade in the late 1970's.

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