The Abduction of Europa


Jean Baptiste Marie Pierre ( French, 1714 - 1789 )

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General Description

In 1770 Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre succeeded his famed older rival, François Boucher, as First Painter to King Louis XV. He was also named Director of the French Academy of Painting, hence occupying the pinnacle of power in the French art world during the last decades of the monarchy. Claude-Henri Watelet, one of the most discerning patrons in the 18th-century Paris, commissioned The Abduction of Europa from Pierre to hang in his grand salon as a pendant to one by Boucher on the same subject. Boucher's painting, today in the Wallace Collection, London, depicts Jupiter in the guise of a bull gently winning the confidence of Europa, who drapes his horns with a crown of flowers. Pierre focuses instead on the next moment in the narrative when Europa mounts the bull, who carries her off across the water, abducted as his bride. Pierre's painting is a typical rococo confection, emphasizing delicate colors, harmonious composition, and elegant postures. Serious drama cedes to a lighthearted atmosphere, colored by the frivolous, even amoral, excesses of the court at the end of the Ancien Régime.

The Roman poet Ovid (43 BC-BCE 17) tells how Jupiter took the guise of the bull in order to abduct Europa, the beautiful daughter of the king of Tyre. The sea deity riding on a dolphin, beneath the figures of Europa and the Bull, is an energetic study of a male torso flung backwards and opposing the force of the surrounding waves. His ribs and chest muscles arch in dramatic tension, though the rosy flesh tones of his body are as voluptuous as the female nudes nearby. His unusual surging stance suggests the wave of passion carrying Europa away.

Adapted from

  • Dorothy Kosinski, DMA label copy, 1993.

  • Dorothy Kosinski, DMA label copy, 2006.

Fun Facts

  • Director of the Academy in July 1770, in January 1778 Pierre was appointed director in perpetuity, a position created especially for him.