Leda and the Swan
The Ovidian myth of Leda and the Swan was painted by Correggio as part of his series on the Love Affairs of Jupiter (also for the Duke of Mantua). The myth tells that Jupiter took the form of a swan to seduce Leda on the banks of the river Eurota. In Correggio's version of this tale (a recurrent topic throughout art history), a nude Leda is shown at the center with the swan laying across her lap, its body being guided between her legs by her left hand, and its long neck twisting up between her breasts. In addition to this moment of lovemaking, Correggio presents simultaneously the pair's meeting on the lower right-hand side, as well as a third moment at the upper right-hand corner: the swan's departure as Leda dresses with the assistance of her handmaiden. On the left-hand side of the image, Correggio balances the scene by depicting Cupid with his bow and two putti with flutes.
This painting shows the influence of Michelangelo, whose treatment of the same subject matter demonstrated a similar sensual eroticism. Biographer Giorgio Vasari remarked that in this and other works, the artist "painted hair in detail, not in the precise manner used by the masters before him, which was constrained, sharp, and dry, but soft and feathery, with each single hair visible, such was his facility in making them; and they seemed like gold and more beautiful than real hair, which is surpassed by that which he painted". Vasari also praised Correggio's talent in painting the skin of Leda and others, writing that "so soft in colouring, with the shadows of the flesh so well wrought, that they appeared to be not colours, but flesh".
It is believed that this painting was originally hung to the left of Danaë, indicating that the swan Jupiter was flying out of this image to the right toward the Danaë painting where the bird transformed into golden rain. Leda and the Swan was, however, relocated several times over the next century, to Spain, Prague, Sweden before arriving in the collection of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans in France. However, Philippe's fervently pious son Louis found the work to be so depraved he attacked it with a knife, damaging Leda's face. The work was eventually restored in the eighteenth century. However, in the process of the restoration, Leda's lustful expression was subdued and presented as more chaste. However, it is still clear from the composition, as well as the satisfied look on the face of Leda as she watches the swan depart, that Correggio intended to present this encounter as a seduction rather than a violation. In 1939 the Austrian painter, Paul Mathias Padua, produced his own interpretation of the painting, Leda mit dem Schwan, which was bought by Adolph Hitler (for 5,000 Reichsmarks) for his second bedroom.
Oil on canvas - Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany