Lovers in Italian Mythological Prints

See works of art
  • The Triumph of Love, from The Triumphs of Petrarch
  • Orpheus seated and playing his lyre, charming the animals
  • Hypnerotomachia Poliphili
  • Ganymede as a young boy riding a large eagle (Zeus) in flight above a landscape
  • Methamorphoseos vulgare
  • Orpheus and Eurydice
  • Orpheus and Eurydice
  • Zeus abducting Ganymede, horses, dogs and other figures below, set within a landscape
  • The Garden of Venus who reclines in the centre before a term of Pan and surrounded by cupids
  • Venus removing a thorn from her left foot while seated on a cloth next to trees, a hare lower right
  • Jupiter tumbling from a horse-drawn carriage at right, Ganymede in the form of an eagle carries a woman in the upper centre, below Venus in he cnetre flanked at the left by the three Graces
  • Venus and Mars Embracing as Vulcan Works at His Forge
  • Apollo standing at left shooting a python with an arrow, above to the left are the muses and at right on a cloud Cupid approaching Apollo, from the Story of Apollo and Daphne
  • Venus and the Nymphs Lamenting the Death of Adonis
  • Cupid with the Arms of Mars
  • Omnia vincit Amor
  • Venus and Adonis
  • Rape of Persephone with Pluto on horseback at right
  • Venus Whipping Cupid with Roses
  • Sleeping Cupid
  • Venus entrusting Cupid to Time
  • Rape of Persephone
  • Psiche Curieuse
  • Amorini Celebrate the Rape of Proserpina

Works of Art (25)


The Power of Eros
Love conquers all; let us, too, yield to Love!
—Virgil, Eclogues 10:69

The overwhelming power of love was a frequent theme of ancient poets, such as the Greek Theocritus (ca. 300–260 B.C.) and the Romans Ovid (43 B.C.–17/18 A.D.) and Virgil (70–19 B.C.) In their verses, this potent force was often embodied by Venus (the Greek Aphrodite), goddess of love, and her son Cupid (the Greek Eros), whose sharp arrows and flaming torches aroused the passions of both gods and mortals. The conceit of love’s conquest was often given visual form by artists of the Renaissance and Baroque, who illustrated Cupid at the center of a triumphal procession or wrestling Pan, symbol of the universe, to the ground. The interaction between Cupid and his mother could also be a metaphor for various aspects of love, while the adulterous affair between Venus and Mars, the god of war, could signify the capacity of love to subdue violence.

Love of the Gods
O son, both arms and hands to me, and source of all my power … you rule the gods and Jove himself …
Venus, in Ovid, Metamorphoses 5:365–69

Throughout his long poem, the Metamorphoses, Ovid celebrates the power of little Cupid to overcome even the mightiest of the gods. Apollo’s futile passion for the nymph Daphne, the first love story recounted by Ovid, is presented as Cupid’s vengeance on the god who had dared to question his supremacy. The golden arrow with which Cupid pierced Apollo’s heart proved more potent than those Apollo had used to slay the Python. Ovid often refers to love’s capacity to make a fool of the great god Jupiter (the Greek Zeus, also known as Jove), who willingly changed his august form to that of bull, eagle, or swan in order to carry out his seductions. The quotation above comes from the poet’s account of the victory of Venus and Cupid over Jupiter’s brother: when Pluto, struck by Cupid’s arrow, became enamored of Proserpina and carried her down to his infernal realm, love’s dominion was extended to the Underworld.

Beginning in the Renaissance, the Ovidian love stories formed one of the most popular subjects for the decoration of villas and palaces. Such tales also provided ideal material for prints, placing affordable and portable images of idealized nudes—often engaged in provocative acts—in the hands of a wide public.

Wendy Thompson
Department of Drawings and Prints, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2004


Thompson, Wendy. “Lovers in Italian Mythological Prints.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)

Further Reading

Landau, David, and Peter Parshall. The Renaissance Print, 1470–1550. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

Thompson, Wendy. Poets, Lovers, and Heroes in Italian Mythological Prints. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2004. See on MetPublications

Additional Essays by Wendy Thompson