Correggio - Jupiter and Io

by Alexandra Tuschka


Jupiter has discovered a new object of desire! Io, however, did not want to give herself immediately. As a virgin priestess, she fled from the advances of the lustful Jupiter. To capture her nevertheless, he covered the land with a dark cloud and surprised her in the darkness. Io had to surrender to him.

This story is also mentioned by Ovid in the "Metamorphoses", one of the rediscoveries of the Renaissance and a source of inspiration for many artists. The difficulty of painting a union with a cloud of mist made the subject interesting, but it was often not solved as elegantly as in this work. Some comparisons show that Jupiter has already regained his form and the nebula only envelops the scene as a reference in the background. Correggio, on the other hand, succeeds masterfully in making Jupiter's face emerge gradually from the cloud of mist, his arm embracing Io more like a claw. Now the girl submits to the kiss. The clothes have already been removed.


The painter becomes unfaithful to the text, for this Io does not look unhappy about the spontaneous visit. Physically, she is very well turned towards the father of God, her lips open, her arm embraces that of her lover. The lower view of her left foot also makes it clear that she is reaching out towards him. Where we are is not shown very clearly. Obviously we are in nature, we can still make out branches and leaves in the mist; a large jug can be seen on the right. A stag has smuggled its head into the picture to drink at the lake.


The subject is rare before 1531 because of its difficulty to depict. In that year, however, Corregio was commissioned to depict the loves of Zeus/Jupiter and created a pictorial invention that has had a major influence on the realisation of the subject to this day.


His technique is thereby bordered on Leonardo Da Vinci's sfumato. "Sfumato" literally means "smoky". This is a painting technique in which soft, blurred light-shadow modelling in delicate glazes determine the impression of the picture. This is combined here with the sensual, Venetian interpretation.


The surroundings are mystical and intensify the contrasts. Thus we see bright, blue skies above and Io is in a mossy, brown natural landscape. The soft, light skin contrasts strongly with this. The stag shown in the margin points to sexual desire. The inclusion of the amphora and the water is often seen as an allusion to the father of Ios, Inachos - a river god.


The painting was commissioned as part of a series of four erotic paintings dealing with the love adventures of Jupiter. In order to escape his jealous wife, Jupiter took on different guises from time to time. This includes the painting of Ganymede in the same format. Here Jupiter had transformed himself into an eagle. The painting was commissioned by Duke Federico II of Mantua. Presumably these two works were given to Emperor Charles V as a gift. The fact that both actually have rape scenes as their subject, but which appear consensual on the canvas, may have a deeper reason. They were regarded as metaphors of absolute power and its beneficial effect despite resistance. The entire cycle, with Leda and the Swan and Danae, is seen as a high point of eroticising Renaissance painting, and the painting itself was considered the most erotic of its time.


Correggio - Jupiter and Io

Oil on canvas, circa 1530, 162 x 73.5 cm, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna