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Meleager and Atalanta and the Hunt of the Calydonian Boar, c. 1618-19

Peter Paul Rubens

Flemish, 1577-1640
Oil on panel
18-3/4 x 29-1/8 in. (47.6 x 74 cm)
Norton Simon Art Foundation, Gift of Mr. Norton Simon
M.1975.21.P
© Norton Simon Art Foundation

On view

The subject is derived from Homer's "Iliad," but it is widely believed that Ruben's composition is drawn from Ovid's narrative in the "Metamorphoses." The goddess Diana has taken insult over the Calydonian king's failure to pay her tribute during the harvest festival. To avenge herself, she sends a ferocious boar to ravage the land. The king's son Meleager, accompanied by the bravest warriors, seeks to destroy the creature. Atalanta, the beautiful virgin huntress, joins the hunt and is the first to wound the boar with her arrow, much to the chagrin of her male competitors.

In this oil sketch, or "modello," Atalanta shoots an arrow at the deadly target while Meleager prevents the boar's escape with his spear. Rubens imparts a sense of immediacy through the use of rapid and spontaneous brushstrokes. Such a vigorous technique typifies the lively flavor of the Baroque style and distinguishes the "modello" from the larger, finished painting in the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna.

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