Description These three paintings depicting key episodes in the ancient Greek romance of the Abduction of Helen of Troy appear to be the only monumental series of 15th-century Italian panel paintings celebrating ancient history that exist today. According to the ancient poets, Venus, goddess of love, promised Paris, prince of Troy, that he would marry the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, queen of the Greek city-state Sparta. Paris went to Sparta and was kindly received by Helen’s husband, King Menelaus. While Menelaus was on a trip, Helen and a party of courtiers, including Paris, made an excursion to the island of Cythera, dedicated to Venus. In the first painting, the courtiers, in elegant Renaissance fashions, marked by brocades, pearls, and fine handkerchiefs, stroll out of the city toward the ship that will take them on this pleasure outing. They are led by a gaily dressed court jester, shaking a tambourine. Jesters played many roles, including the role here as trickster, made clear to contemporaries by the hood with donkey ears. With a trickster as the leader of the revels, this excursion is likely to leave courtly decorum behind! Indeed, on Cythera, Paris talked Helen into going away with him (second painting). They sailed to Troy, where Paris’s father, King Priam, and his mother, Queen Hecuba, received them as a couple (third painting). The events led to the Trojan War: the Greeks destroyed Troy to get Helen back. Trojans fleeing their burning city were said to have founded European cities such as Rome and Venice. In the 1400s, large paintings of historical, Old Testament, and mythological subjects featuring beautiful women were favored for decorating the homes of wealthy Italians. They were often installed at shoulder height and framed to give the impression of views through palace windows or through the columns of a pavilion, creating the illusion of ancient history coming alive before one’s eyes. These paintings most likely hung in the palace of a Venetian noble family.
Provenance Cav. Marcello Galli-Dunn, Castello di Badia, Poggibonsi, Tuscany [date and mode of acquisition unknown]; Sale, Galleria Sangiorgi, Rome, May 2, 1905, no. 142; Henry Walters, Baltimore, prior to 1915 [mode of acquisition unknown]; Walters Art Museum, 1931, by bequest.
Inscriptions [Transcription] On flag, in reverse: C
Credit Acquired by Henry Walters, before 1915
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