For comments mail P.H.Gommers@skynet.be

Travels of TITIAN'S Painting of EUROPA

At the request of the Spanish king Philips II, Titian started a  series of six paintings chosen from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, he called them ‘poesies’.  He finished the last one, the Abduction of Europa, in 1562. They remained at the Spanish Court  for over 100 years.
In the mean time, the famous Flemish Baroque painter and diplomat, Peter Paul Rubens, 1577-1640, extended his mission to the Spanish Court, copying at the Alcázar many paintings for Philips IV. His Europe is identical to Titian in size and all additional objects and surroundings. His El rapto del Europa, or the Abduction of Europa, is still to admire in the Museo del Prada of Madrid (see my book page 109).
Meanwhile the French royal house of Bourbon and the great-grandchild of Louis XIV inherited the Spanish crown, as Philips V, 1683-1745. He became king at 17 years and Louis XIV gave him a kind of regent, being the French ambassador Duke de Gramont. In 1705 Philips V asked Louis XIV to recall the ambassador. Apparently, to soften the blow, Philips V gave the duke de Gramont, as a parting gift, three poesies of Titian, among which L’enlèvement d’Europe.
In 1715, Philippe duc d’Orléans became Regent of France on behalf of Louis XV, grandson of Louis XIV . He gathered a huge collection of paintings and other artistic objects.
The collection is known as " La Galerie du Régent, Philippe, duc d’Orléans". The Duke de Gramont gave in that year the Titian paintings to the Regent, duke of Orléans for his Galerie. The Collection remained  during almost the whole 18th century in the Orléans family. At the end of the century, the heir tried to sell the whole Collection, while master J.Couché, 1755? – 1821, engraver of his Cabinet, started a huge project to have the whole Collection engraved.
Couché, already working for some time on his project with many others, decided  in 1785 to publish, one by one on a subscription basis, the 355 engravings he had already assembled. The French Revolution did not help him, nor the sale of the entire Collection, but he continued and in 1806 more or less the entire Collection was published in three tomes, of which the first one in 1786 (probably predated). They all have the individual title with mentioning “De la Galerie de S.A.S. Monseigneur le Duc d’Orléans , with the family weapon –with three French lilies- in the middle. Many designers and engravers were involved. The prints were based on both etching and engraving technics. Below the title a description of the painting.


The print of L’enlèvement d’Europe, is signed: peint par Titien Vecelli – déssigné par Boret – gravé par J.L. Delignon.  

The great grandson, Louis Philippe II – or Philippe Égalité-, 1747-1793, tried to sell off this artistic treasure because of huge gambling debts in 1788.  He succeeded to sell en bloc a large part of the Galerie to a banker in Brussels. Who sold it back to a Frenchman, who escaped from the French Revolution with the paintings to London. Philippe Égalité lost his head by the guillotine in 1793. The Collection was sold in 1798 in London to a consortium of three English noblemen; (1) Francis Egerton, 3rd duke of Bridgewater,  (2) earl Gower, 1st duke of Sutherland and (3) Frederic Howard, 5th count of Carlisle. They sold a large part to buyers of individual paintings. It was only in 1804 that Titian’s Europe painting was sold to the 2nd earl of Berwick for his gallery at Attingham Park. For unknown reasons he  sold the picture again, at the latest in 1816 to the 4th earl of Darnley. Titian’s Europe painting went to his gallery in his country House, Cobham Hall in Kent. Because of inheritance taxes, among others, the painting went up for sale and after a while it was sold to the American lady, Mrs Isabella Stewart Gardner in 1896 through the agency Colnaghi and her personal adviser  Bernard Berenson. It hang for 7 years in her Drawing Room of her house in Beaconstreet, Boston, U.S.A.. Than it was moved to its present location: The Titian Room of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum at Fernway Court, Boston, which opened on January 1, 1903. 


J.Couché, La Galerie du Palais-Royal, gravé d’après les tableaux des différentes écoles qui la composent, etc. Publié par J.Couché, Paris 1786-1806.
Casimir Stryienski, 1863-1912, La Galerie du Régent,Philippe, duc d’Orléans ; ed.
Manzi, Joyant & Cie, Paris, 1913.
Nicolas Penny, National Gallery Catalogues : The 16th century Italian Paintings, vol II, Venice, 1540-1600, London, Nat.Galery Publ.Ltd. .
Jeremy Howard, Titian’s rape of Europe,  Conference Papers at St.Andrews, May, 2011; The Reception of Titian in Britain, ed. By Peter Humfrey, Brepols Publishers, Turnhout, Belgium, 2013.

Antwerp, and a happy year to you, Peter Gommers, 2 january, 2015



Another political interpretation of Titian’s Europa

Titian painted on his Europa canvas some additional features not found on paintings of other artists, but for the copy of Rubens. These small additions inspired Prof. Karinne Simonneau, to an interesting 16th century political interpretation of Titian’s painting. The most striking subsidiary object is the presence of a big ugly fish, as an after-thought, on the bottom of the painting. That fish, with sharpened dents and on his back a double row of quills, looks monstrous and ugly. In the time of Titian  a repulsive fish stood for, what the Italians called,  a  ‘diavolo di mare’, a sea-devil, and was often used as an allusion to the aggressive Turks threatening the European continent. (1st attack on Vienna,1529, sea-battles in the Mediterranean for its supremacy,1562, Djerba, won by the Turks over mainly Spanish ships from Philips II, and 1571 Leponto, won by a combined south European fleet, with commander in chief the halfbrother of Philips II, Don Juan of Austria.) After the lost battle of 1562 the European regions of the Mediterranean were open to repeated raids by Turkish and North African pirates. On the painting, beyond the mountains on the left, there are smoke clouds of fires visible, and in front of the left bank there lies vaguely the wreckage of a ship. The panic of her friends staying behind could also be a consequence of what is going on inland. And on the horizon, in between the leg and arm of Europa, a Venetian (round hull) men of arms appears with full sails coming to their rescue? So, the actual political meaning of 'Europa and the bull' would be: the bull/god, Philips II, has to save the continent, Europe, threatened by the ‘diabolo di mare’ on one side but will be supported by the large navy fleet of Venice on the other.
It is a surprising interpretation, well documented and fitting the political situation of that time.


  29_02                 29_03



On the prent because of the grey/black overtones the situation looks much more threatening than in the bright colours of the painting. Also the devilfish appears more threatening (29_03). The Venetian boat sailing in, on the painting, is vague but well visible. In the print you need a lot of fantasy  to distinct a sailing boat in the haze mingling sea and sky. Than again the wreckage opposite Europa and above the girlfriends on shore is more clear on the prent. The small trail of darker smoke, on the right just above the mountains looks more marginal.(29_04). The copier for the engraving executed about two centuries later of course did not have any idea about the importance of these additional indications.


Karinne Simonneau, Une Relecture politique de l’Enlèvement d’Europe de Titien : Philips II et les Turcs, Revue de l’Art, 1999, no 125, p 32-37 du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique ; Editions Ophrys, Paris.

February 2, 2015 from a fascinated reader


Titian’s Europa: Fame and Followers

Titian’s painting of Europa and the bull was in that period rather unique. The image of a Lady in distress was not done, and the way he painted it with rough strokes, almost like an early impressionist, made the painting not easily acceptable for admirers of Titian and difficult for lesser painters to copy. As a consequence the number of known professional copies of this painting have remained rather limited.
It is known, that Titian copied between 1562-1568, himself with his studio the six ‘poesies’ he made for Philipps II, the Spanish Habsburger, and offered these copies to emperor Maximillian II of Germany, the Austrian line of Habsburgers. Apparently, he was not interested. Subsequently, he asked the Grandduke of Bavaria Albert III, House of Wittlesbach, 1519-1591. The reaction of Albert is not known.
However, while these copies where still in Venice, Jacopo Strada, homo universalis, and working for the Austrian Habsburgers as Art and antiquities expert, listed in 1568 a copy of Titian’s Europe, his copy or from someone else? It remained in Venice and was part of the Gallery of Bartolomeo della Nave, who sold it to  Basil Fielding in 1630. Basil Fielding, 2nd Earl of Denbigh and Desmond, 1608-16175, bought the painting for his brother in law  Lord Hamilton in 1638/9, during his stay in Venice as ambassador of the UK. After the execution of Lord James, first Duke of Hamilton, 1606-1649 by the Republican Rump Parliament, succeeded by  Cromwell. His possessions were confiscated, including most of his paintings which were handed to, as warbooty, and partly sold to Leopold Wilhelm of Austria,1614-1662, Governor of the  Spanish Netherlands for his Brussels Gallery. When he later returned to Vienna, he took all his paintings with him, but Titian’s Europe was subsequently reported lost !
Meanwhile, In Spain Rubens made his famous copy of Titian and signed it with his own name , now in the Prado, mentioned under the ‘Januari contribution’ of this webpage
Reduced copies were made by two well-known Spanish 16/17th century painters.
Juan Sánchez-Coton, 1560-1627, copied Titian’s Europe. Probably, owned by the Spanish Grandee,Don Gaspar Méndez de Haro, Marquiz of Carpio, Viceroy of Naples and art collector, who is known to have owned a copy of Titian’s Europe.Then there is the reduced copie of Juan Bautista Martinez del Mazo, 1612-1667, son in law of Velasquez, who copied several of Titian’s poesias.
In the 17th century Giuseppe Maria Mitelli (29_05) from Bologna,1634-1718 designed for an engraving a reduced copy with only the two main figures, Europe lying backwards on the bull.


29_05            29_06


A similar copy is found on a laquer tobaccosnuff box with a 9.6cm diam. By Johann Heinrich Stobwasser in 1764 for the Braunschweig Lacqwaren factory, held by the Braunschweig museum. In both images the frightened  emotion of Europe is no longer visible.
The Dutch painter David Teniers the Younger, 1610-1690, was employed by Leopold Wilhelm for his Gallery in Brussels. Apparently, his Titian’s Europe copy inspired him to paint a small oil, 21.6-31.1 cm, freely after Titian. Europe is only backward leaning, which make the image less frightening (see my study p. 115).
Jean Michel Moreau le jeune, 1741-1814 illustrated Charles Albert Demoustrer’s  Lettres d’Emillie. His Europe myth interpretation is again a copy of  Titian’s main group, showing only Europe lying backwards on the bull.(see my study p.111).
Very recently, Sotheby recorded the auction sale on 10/07/2003 of a 17th century Titian copy for £. 52.800. Probably, It was the same size as the original with 185-237cm including the modern frame.   
The reduced size copy in The Wallace Collection, London, was owned by Sir Joshua Reynolds, founding President of the Royal Academy of Arts and important English painter. He thought his reduced version was from Titian himself, being the base study for his full size painting. Nowadays, such a complete smaller study by Titian is not considered  realistic.  The painting is now dated as early 18th century. The copy shows a great likeness in its beauty and emotions.   
Another reduced copy is to be found in the Dulwich Collection, London’s first public  Gallery. Its origin cannot be traced. It is known that Noël Desenfans, 1745-1807, (art dealer) and the Swiss painter Sir Francis Bourgeois were commissioned by king Stanislaus of Poland to assemble a royal Collection of paintings. After his abdication as king  and flight to Russia, the two decided to set up the collection in a public Gallery. Bourgeois in his Will  left the Collection to the Dulwich College in London and stipulated that the Collection should be open for public in general. This beautiful reduced copy is attributed to Juan del Mazo, mentioned above, although some experts judge the painting a 18th century copy and not a 17th century one.  


The Reception of Titian in Britain, ed.Peter Humphrey, Brepols, 2013
Die Verführung der Europa, Prof. Dr.Barbara Mundt, Verlag Ulstein GmbH, Frankfurt a M. 1988
The Vexation of Art; Velasques and Others, Svetlana Alpers, private in China, 2007
John Ingamells Dulwich Picture Gallery, British Cataloque, London, 2008      


Antwerp, 1 March 2015                                       your faithful chronicler



Titian’s Rape of Europe - a Misnomer


Titian’s image of Europa is one of the very few Europa paintings, which suggests a lady in distress. Commentators refer and compare it almost automatically to  the only classical text describing  Europa in despair, i.e. The Ode to Galathea of Horace (Ode III.27). In both the ode and the painting, modern minds find here a confirmation of their assumed “rape of Europe”. However, this was not the intention of the original myth, nor that of Horace in his poem, nor that of Titian.
When Titian had finished his Europa poesie, he wrote on April 26, 1562, to the Spanish king Philips II:
“I have finally with divine grace brought to completion the two pictures that I began for your Catholic Majesty; one is ′Christ in the Garden′, the other  the ′poesia of Europa carried by the Bull′, which I send to you….” In this title he leaves open an interpretation of voluntariness or coercion between Europa and the bull. Any implication of rape is simply not there.

Horace in his Ode starts out with Europa frightened of the seamonsters;, what everybody would be. While considering her fate, she thinks with horror  she would be given as a concubine to the mercies of a barbarian queen and would have to card a mistress wool. No thoughts of rape. But more significant, she cries out: “O  name of daughter, that I forsook, and filial duty… Shameless, I deserted my household gods…” Here she takes the blame for running away, that would indicate a voluntary action from her part, against her duty to her father. And she goes on: “Worthless Europa, my father, though far distant, urges, why dost thou hesitate to die? “ She knows, her father now has no other choice than to kill her. This is an example of  the millennia-old custom of honour killings of conservative patriarchal societies, as already mentioned for priests in the Old Testament (Leviticus 21 -9). Leaving the house with a stranger without the assient of the Father is enough reason to lose the father’s and family’s honour. It can also involve rape but that  only would be an additional reason. Also in Roman law the father has, under serious conditions, the right to kill his daughter. And when Apollodore mentions that Agenor sends out all her brothers over the world to find her back, it is not to bring Europa safely home, but to kill her in order to restore her father’s and family’s honour. Europa is in distress, not because she is afraid of rape but that her family would want to kill her.

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But what was the original intention of the myth. Classical writers of the last part of the first Millennium BC focus their stories on the relation East-West, although that was not a political issue at all, at the most some commercial interactions, in  the beginning of that Millennium or even before that, it could not have been part of the original myth. Obviously, the myth arose when the Greeks or Mycaneans conquered Minoan Crete, Apparently they wanted to incorporate that much higher Minoan civilization into theirs, by engendering the well known Minoan Heroes through a Greek Lady and the Greek supreme God Zeus, thus bringing  the Minoan culture under the Greek religious fold with a Greek supreme god as the common denominator. In such a context Europa as an eastern Lady does not make any sense, not  much less so as a description of the origin of the coupling of Zeus with the Greek matriarch of the royal House of Crete. Apparently, it was no longer understood  in 19th century art circles that in classical times coupling with a god was a great honour to the family, like  the birth of Christianity. All the mythical lineages of ancient royal Greek houses tried to ensure that their family was based on a mixed immortal/human origin. The origin of the myth comes obviously, from the new Greek king-priest of Crete and his inner circle. The metamorphose of Zeus into a  bull is only a minor part of the story, just to make it sound more romantically attractive.  

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Titian named the painting carried by the bull. In Spain it was translated in El rapto del Europa (abduction), and so did the Flemish Rubens. Consequently,the French translated the Spanish title in L’Enlèvement d’Europe (see 29.01). The beautiful Portuguese Azulejos tiles with Europa are described rapto de Europa. The glorious Europa by Rembrandt van Rijn, the same Dutch title, de ontvoering van Europa. The largest exhibition concerning exclusively the Europa myth in the Berlin Kunstgewerbemuseum in 1988 called its Catalogue Die Verführung der Europa (seduction). Apparently, when the French Orléans Galerie, with Titian’s Europa, had to be sold by auction in the UK, the painting  was rebaptized Rape of Europe ; Why, a wrong  translation from the Spanish Rapto?, or to attract the attention of British Auction visitors. In English, this title has stuck in almost all UK & US musea, suggesting a rather superficial knowledge of Greek classical times of the experts involved...

Luckily, this misnomer in the English language did not stop the Europa myth to continue to represent the continent Europe in all its facets, be it geographical (see 29_09, Europe map by Petrus Schenk), religious (like the Europa paintings of Gustave Moreau)cultural ( 29_08 Interpretation of Rembrandt), political (29_10,Europe in full armour with the bull on her shield, looking threatening at the turkish sultan, Punch 1910) and presently, more specifically, Europe's unity in the European Union (29_10, pamphlet 1st EU parlement election).


Titian, Europa, and the Seal of the Poesie, Anita Georgievska-Shine, Artibus & Historiae, 2007
Ode to Galathea of Horace, English translation, my study, page 75.
La Mythique Europe n‘est ni Phénicienne, ni Princesse, P.H. Gommers, dans Europe entre Orient et Occident,  L’Age d’Homme, Lausanne, 2007


 April 2015,    P.H. Gommers



The wellknown, Spanish seaside town, Torremolinos, below Malaga, attracts each summer great numbers of seaside, euro, tourists. In order to commemorate this European togetherness, the Spanish community placed  on the Plaza de la Union Europea in 2005 a life size statue of, the two and a half millennia old, emblem of Europe: Goddess Europe on her divine bull Zeus.




It has been carved out of beautiful white marbre. A triumphant Europa  sitting on her bull/Zeus with in her hands a laurel wreath with the yellow stars from the EU flag.
Somewhat surprising; based on the design indications of the Public, Communal  Office, the statue was produced by a Chinese company.


May  1, Torremolinos


In 2009, publisher 'Linkeroever uitgevers nv', Antwerpen, issued a mistery book De Blinde Vlek from Jo Claes. The title page shows the statue by Rik Poot, mentioned already (see left : 2012 1st half june 23_10). He describes how Chief-inspector Berg, approaching the Provinciehuis of Brabant in Leuven, notices a powerful bronze bull with a girl on his back. Apparently, an interpretation of the classical Greek myth of Europa with bull-Zeus. The inspector summarizes for his questioning colleague detective the Ovidian Europa Myth.


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However, the sharp eyes of inspector Berg detect a more specific detail of the bull's statue. The sculptor
turned the bull's glans of his penus  into the head of a snake.  The inspector has also a lot of imagination. An
interpretation more fit for the Minotaurus of Minos.

Leuven, 20 june,   an observant student.