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Maerten van Heemskerck : “Panorama with the Abduction of Helen Amidst the Wonders of the Ancient World” (1535)

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Heemskerck painted this homage to ancient art in Rome, where he traveled to study antiquities as well as the work of contemporary masters such as Michelangelo (1475-1564). In 1535, when Heemskerck painted this panorama, almost surely to complement the famous antiquities belonging to Cardinal Ridolfo Pio (in whose collection Heemkerck’s maspieriece is inventoried), scholars were still disputing which of these monuments were the most marvelous. Heemskerck’s interpretation of the narrative, the abduction of Helen, queen of the Greek city-state Sparta, by Paris, a prince of Troy in Asian Minor, an epic that stretches across the ancient world to Rome itself, was influenced by versions of the story that set events among the marvels of heroic achievements of the ancient world. This luminous panorama is one of the most famous Northern landscapes of the 1500s; its array of ancient marvels and evidence of antiquity’s greatness provided a picture-puzzle for the viewer, challenging him to locate and identify the pieces. In Greek and Roman literature a rainbow was evidence that the messenger goddess Iris, identified by her multicolored mantle, was on her way to deliver a message. In this story, she alerted Helen’s husband Menelaus who was away from home when the abduction took place.

(Text courtesy of The Walters Art Museum, GNU FPL-1.3).

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