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 The Myth of Europa 
 The myth of Europa - Antique iconography :  metopes and statuettes,  ceramics,  roman paintings and mosaics - Europa in greek and latin litterature - References and links 
Create your own file about Europa - Study two modern representations of the myth

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Antique Iconography
Roman paintings and mosaics

  Representative works    Comparative analysis    Study of a work  


A selection of representative works

Fresque de la maison de Jason à Pompéi, Musée de Naples Fresque de la Casa Sannatica, Herculanum Mosaïque de la Villa San Marco, Stabies - Musée Condé à Chantilly Mosaïque de la maison d'Ikarios à Uthina Mosaïque du musée d'Arles
  1. Europa on the bull (fresco), House of Jason, Pompei (between 15 B. C. and 15 A. D.) - Archaeological Museum, Napoli, Italy.
    Website by Luis Salas (http://pompeya.desdeinter.net/pompeya.htm).
    Armand Lugrin proposes a virtual visit of Pompei.
    The Archaeological Society of the South of France offers online photographs of the end of XIXth century and among others ba beautiful sepia printing of this fresco by G. Sommer (about 1880).
  2. Herculanum, "Casa Sannatica" : fresco - Italy (1st century A. D.)
    Luis Salas makes photographs of the "Casa Sannatica" (http://herculano.desdeinter.net/ercolano.htm)
    On this website, reproductions of roman paintings and mosaics from the Napoli Archaeological Museum.
  3. The Rape of Europa (mosaic), Villa of San Marco, Stabia, Italy (1st century A. D.) - Chantilly's Castle Museum, France.
  4. Uthina (Oudna), House of Ikarios, mosaic - Tunisia (end of the 2nd century A. D.)
  5. The Museum of Arles' mosaic - France (end of the 2nd century B.C.- beginning of the 3rd century A.D.)
    "The mosaic was discovered in 1900. It measured 4 metres by 4 and only its figurative part has been removed. It is quite well preserved, except for big white pieces of tessellation in the upper right corner, attesting to antique repairs..." (comments by Véronique Blanc-Bijeon in Museum of Ancient Arles, Actes Sud)

    Mrs Wattel de Croizant points out that the various figures of the myth of Europe attest to some contaminations; the ancient model was used as a base for figures diverging from the very myth of Europe. A mosaic of Nimes can thus be seen as the utmost of such a contamination and can give pupils the opportunity to analyze the similarities and differences with the help of their teacher
    Mosaic with Nereids (2nd Century A.D.), Archaeological Museum, Nîmes - France (2nd Century A.D.) .

Suggestions for a comparative analysis

Fresco from the House of Jason at Pompei (15 B. C. - 15 A. D.) © Archaeological Museum, Napoli
Fresque de la maison de Jason à Pompéi, Musée de Naples

General composition : representation of the scene before the abduction.

  Europa is riding the bull side-saddle. With her left hand, she is holding on to the animal's head. With her right hand, she raises the edge of her himation, thus leaving her breast bare. Her skin is very white. She is wearing a necklace.
  The bull, at the centre of the scene, is shown three-quarter face.The animal is powerful but doesn't generate a feeling of dread.
  Décor : on the right, three young maidens: the heroine's friends, with elegant hairstyles and dresses.
A column, a spring, and a grove mark the landscape.
Fresco from "Casa Sannatica", Herculanum (1st century A. D.)
Fresque de la Casa Sannatica, Herculanum

General composition : representation of the crossing of the Sea.

  Entirely naked, Europa is seen from the back, almost lying on the water ; she is letting the bull take her away, holding onto his neck.
  The bull carries Europa away, crossing the waves. His muzzle is directed towards the young maiden's face : he seems to be giving her a kiss.
  Décor : the seascape is rather minimal. The scene takes on a rather strong erotic connotation.
Mosaic from Villa of San Marco at Stabies (1st century A. D.) - © Institut de France
Mosaïque de la Villa San Marco, Stabies - Musée Condé à Chantilly

General composition : representation of the crossing of the Sea.

  Sitting side-saddle on the bull, Europa is holding on to one of the bull's horns with her left hand ; with her right hand, she pulls away the edge of her himation, thus leaving her breast and her belly bare. She is turning her face towards the place from where she was abducted, but shows no emotion. Her hair is worn in a ponytail.
  The bull seems to be moving, one leg up, but is rather small in comparison to the young maiden. His body is powerful, his head small
  Décor : rocks serve to evoke the two areas of land. The bull is heading right. In the foreground one can see a dolphin.
Mosaic of the House of Ikarios, Uthina (2nd century A. D.)
Mosaïque de la maison d'Ikarios à Uthina

General composition : the scene evokes the world of Moschos.

  Europa, standing in the middle of the mosaic, is seen from the back, sitting on the bull. She seems to be off-balance and is holding on to the bull's horn. Her chest is naked but for a strophonion. He hair is tied-up in a neat bun.
  The bull seems to be motionless ; his head was probably quite expressive.
  Décor : Eros, the lightning-carrier, stands out on the left. To the right stands a column topped by a cantar (cantarus) together with a light-foliaged tree. Two women stand in the shadow of this column; one of them is on her knees, feeding the bull with recently plucked roses. Behind her, another young maiden seems to be trying to lure the bull with a branch. The women wear the same hairstyle as Europa, a bun tied on the nape of their necks
Mosaic with Nereids (2nd century A.D.) - © Archaeological Museum, Nîmes, France
Mosaïque de Nîmes, Musée archéologique de Nîmes

General composition : representation of the crossing of the Sea. The scene is limited to the representation of the animal carrying the young maiden


Europa is sitting side-saddle on the bull, and is pulling her himation onto her head. The dress seems to be slipping down, leaving her body bare. Her face is turned towards the bull's muzzle. Her hair, in a very simple hairstyle, hangs down upon her shoulders.

  The bull appears as a hybrid animal : the upper part of his body is that of a bull whose head is turned towards the girl ; the lower part of his body is that of a Sea Monster (Nonnos de Panopolis).
  Décor : no supplementary details appear in this representation.One can see here an important contamination with representations of the Sea Gods and of the Nereids.

Elements for a study

We provide a more detailed analysis of a fresco of the Hous of Jason at Pompei (between 15 B.C. and 15 A.D.).

Fresque de la maison de Jason à Pompéi, Musée de Naples

The representation of the Myth of Europa was part of a collection which also included Heracles's fight against the Centaur Nessus, and a representation of the concert given by Pan and some Nymphs.

Europa's three friends seem to be showing different expressions : one is standing back, the second seems to be impassive, while the last girl pets the animal's muzzle.

What is striking here is the static character of the composition : feelings are only slightly sketched out, and there is no movement. The scene takes place in a quite unexpected landscape, dominated by a column and a grove.

The play of colour on the clothes, and the theme of the bare breast give this scene a rather conventional character. The violence of the abduction seems to fade away and the whole composition is without any great dramatic tension

O. Wattel-de-Croizant's hypothesis is that this scenery corresponds to a temenos Cult and that the artist wanted to stress the "Harmony of Nature, the ascendancy of Good over Evil", in relation to the two other scenes.

Odile Wattel-de-Croizant, Les mosaïques représentant le mythe d'Europe (Ier-VIe siècles), évolution et interprétation des modèles grecs en milieu romain (Mosaics Representing the Myth of Europa (Ist - VIth Centuries) - Evolution and Interpretation of Greek Models in Roman Environment), De Boccard, 1995
Adolphe Reinach, La peinture ancienne, Textes grecs et latins (Ancient painting, Greek and Latin Texts), Macula, 1985.