While I was skimming rather quickly through art images the other day, I paused when I came across this 1532 painting by Correggio. I glimpsed an unusual scenario taking place but had to stop and make sure I really saw what I thought I saw. Is that a woman having sex with a cloud?? Well on closer inspection, I found that my initial impression was indeed true. She IS having sex with a cloud! And she seems to be really, really enjoying it 😉
The painting is titled Jupiter and Io, and it depicts one of the many narratives of Greek and Roman mythology. Jupiter was the king of the gods, the big kahuna of deities, master of sky and thunder, the invincible badass who ruled everything and got whatever he wanted. Jupiter’s Greek counterpart was Zeus, which might be more familiar to some.
When Jupiter first spotted Io, a beautiful river goddess, it was lust at first sight. Nothing, not even Jupiter’s jealous wife Juno, would keep him from having Io, the object of his sexual desire. The clever god used all his omnipotent powers to make it happen. As Io rested along the riverbank, Jupiter morphed into a thick, dark, billowing cloud. In this camouflaged form, Jupiter enveloped Io, kissed her, and made love to her. Mission accomplished. Piece of cake when you’re the “king of gods”.
In 1610, Io was given immortality when the great astronomer Galileo discovered the four moons of the planet Jupiter. Although they are commonly known as the Galilean moons, they are individually named after the lovers and companions of the mythological Jupiter: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.
Clearly not as erotic as the Correggio piece, this NASA spacecraft image of the cosmic Jupiter and Io is equally, if not more, visually stunning. Io may be a mere satellite to her master planet Jupiter, but she is volatile and temperamental. With 400 active volcanoes, Io’s surface is distinguished by her lava flows, sulfur plumes, and mountain peaks that reach altitudes higher than Mount Everest.
Correggio wasn’t the only painter who exalted Jupiter and his many conquests. Peter Paul Rubens also tackled the myth, but selected Ganymede as his subject instead of Io. The Ganymede of mythology was a Trojan prince and a mortal. Handsome and youthful, Ganymede, like Io, was spotted by Jupiter, who once again found himself completely infatuated. Like the covetous god that he was, Jupiter decided to possess the young Ganymede. Again he used his trusty mutation strategy, only this time instead of a cloud, he transformed into an eagle. He swooped down and captured young Ganymede, carried him up to the heavens, and made him cupbearer of the gods.
This is Rubens’ portrayal of The Abduction of Ganymede:
The Ganymede of astronomy is an attractive figure in a different way. It is the largest moon in the solar system -larger in diameter than the planet Mercury – and the only satellite known to have a magnetic field. This is Ganymede alongside Jupiter:
The Jupiter of the galaxy is not a terrestrial planet, but a giant orb of gas. A floating sphere of hydrogen and helium. It is also 2 1/2 times the mass of all the other planets of the solar system combined. It’s a big bastard. A standout. Vaporous. Charismatic. Turbulent. Surrounded by loyal minions. Much like it’s mythological namesake, don’t you think?
Jupiter and Thetis, by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, 1811:
The gods really do live in the skies.