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Meleager and Atalanta

print

Jacob Jordaens I
Antwerp 1593 - Antwerp 1678
1617-1618
154.4 x 121.5 x 1.7 cm
Inventory number 844

In his Metamorphoses, the Roman poet Ovid tells the story of Meleager and Atalanta, a myth that begins with Diana, the goddess of the hunt. Angered by the fact that King Oeneus of Calydon forgot her in the annual harvest sacrifice, she sent a ferocious boar that ravaged his land. A hunting party was assembled to kill the animal. Among the hunters were Prince Meleager and his beloved Atalanta. The latter succeeded first in wounding the boar, after which the prince killed it with his spear. He offered the boar's head and skin as a trophy to Atalanta. This outraged his uncles, who claimed that, if Meleager did not want the prize, it was theirs by right of birth. This in turn enraged Meleager, who drew his sword and killed them, whereupon Meleager's mother put a curse on him, causing him to die in agony.
In this painting, the Antwerp Baroque artist Jacob Jordaens depicts the critical moment when Meleager's uncles protest about the prize being given to Atalanta. The tension is tangible; death is looming. The stark contrasts between light and dark areas enhance the composition's dramatic impact.

Anger

While the motif is borrowed from the world of the ancient gods, Jordaens represented it in very realistic fashion, with rural characters and dogs, which he so loved to paint. The underlying message of the painting would appear to be that rage can lead to personal downfall.

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