Europa was the daughter of King Agenor of Tyre in Phoenicia. According to the ancient Greek myth, she was playing with her handmaidens on the beach one day when Zeus, who was enamored of her, appeared in the guise of a bull and kneeled before her. Pleased by the apparent gentleness of the creature, she climbed on its back. As he carried her off, she steadied herself by holding on to one of his horns, as she does here. He swam with her to Crete and seduced her. Europa had three sons by Zeus, including the future King Minos.
This vase, found at Vulci in Etruria (Italy) more than 200 years ago, has a distinguished provenance, having been in the collections of Lucien Bonaparte and the Duke of Buckingham. It is part of an important, recent gift to the Nasher Museum of almost 200 ancient Greek works of art ranging from the Cycladic (third millennium B.C.E.) to the Classical period (third century B.C.E.).
Europa and the Bull, ca. 1640
June 1, 2006