The Philadelphia Museum of Art is an extraordinary landmark of world-class art. The 72 stone steps leading to the courtyard and the grand main entrance gives the structure the architectural brilliance and respect for the work of arts contained inside. It is the home of a world-renowned collection. According to their website part of their story is to, “connect people with the arts in rich and varied ways, making the experience of the Museum surprising, lively, and always memorable” (“Philadelphia Museum of Art – About Us: Our Story”). Located on the second floor of the museum is the gallery of European Art 1500-1850. The inside of the gallery contains a work of art titled Jupiter and Callisto by the artist Karel Philips Spierincks. It is the mythical tale of two lovers. However, there is more to the tale than meets the eye. Spierincks’ work of art is a visual experience of storytelling on canvas.
The recognizable imagery depicted in Spierincks’ work of art embraces the attributes of a naturalistic style. However, an observer can argue that the piece defines a style of representational due to the naked infants with feathered wings. It begins to draw in the viewer as a work of art that is naturalistic but representational for something else. The scenery in Jupiter and Callisto renders an outdoor woodland environment filled with trees, rolling hills, mountains, a lake, and a blue sky scattered with clouds. In the left foreground Jupiter, in the disguise of Diana, embraces the nymph Callisto. Seven cupid characters surround the couple. One of the cupids hangs on to a red leash of a hound looking in the direction of the couple. Another next to the couple holds a torch in the air. Behind the couple sits a cupid stringing its’ bow. Above the couple hovers a pair that drops flowers at them, and still another prepares to shoot an arrow at the lovers. In the distance, Callisto reappears being dragged by the hair by Juno, Jupiter’s jealous wife. Near Juno a single chariot and two peacocks are visibly present (Sutton). A single building and pointed structure are evident in the distance and above on the flat surface of a hill.
The beautifully blended work of art by Spierincks is a result of the use of oil paints. It is very apparent in the realistic skin tone achieved in the human figures. The mix of light and dark hues create a balance of light and shadows noticed throughout the artwork, for example, Callisto’s complexion is more vivid in contrast to Jupiter’s darker and shadowed complexion. The continued effects of chiaroscuro in the painting enhance the two-dimensional environment. Jupiter and Callisto united bodies establish a focal point of observation for the viewer. The dark foliage behind the couple creates a contrast that further enhance the attention towards the focal point. Most of the emphasis are on the lovers. However, there are many accents to complement the scene. The multiple cupids presence gives a sense of love, passion and innocence. The cupid’s posture and placement of hands and feet add movement to their character, for instance, the cupid holding the bow and arrow has a straight leaning posture with one arm extended and feet slightly straight out. This position confirms the cupid’s intention of shooting an arrow. Furthermore, the flowing irregular lines found in the clothing and fabrics works to give the material volume and texture. The lighter in color and bright sky draws the spectator’s attention away from the focal point and towards exploring the other images within the artwork. The exposed pointed structure located in the distance above the hills appear to decrease into a vanishing point. The pointed structure gives the artwork the foundation for a one-point perspective. Concentrating our attention on the thick dark tree located on the left side of the artwork then tracing our eyes towards the vanishing point gives the viewer a complex illusion of space or foreshortening. For this reason, Jupiter and Callisto bodies appear larger in comparison to the figures in the distance. Additionally, the farther mountains and images lose the quality of detail and become faint.
Spierincks’ Jupiter and Callisto is a representation of a myth in Greek mythology. Jupiter’s disguise as Diana earns the affection of Callisto through deception. Diana is often portrayed holding a bow and accompanied by hunting dogs. Jupiter’s disguise clearly fools Callisto and embraces him as Diana. Callisto displays an intimate posture with one leg resting on Jupiter’s leg and one arm grasping his neck. She appears to be whispering softly into his ear. Callisto half covered and naked body leaning on Jupiter builds the sexual tension between the lovers.The couple gains much attention from the nearby hound. It could be possible that the instinctive sense of the hound suspects the deception of Jupiter as Diana. The cupid is strongly holding on to the leash of the hound and preventing it from disrupting the couple’s romance. The symbolism of the red leash and blanket represents the color as the most commonly associated with romantic love. In the distance, Spierincks placed a chariot and peacock near Juno. The subtext to clearly define Juno as the jealous wife of Jupiter, therefore, justifying the aggressive demeanor of Juno dragging Callisto by the hair.
Spierincks’ Jupiter and Callisto undeniably created a work of art in the fine art category. His intelligent use of symbolism and storytelling within the painting immerse the viewer. The brilliant application of oil paints to generate the characters and scenery demonstrates a great medium of choice. His painting reveals the influence of love and regrettable understanding of temptation. The multiple cupids surrounding the couple create a sense of movement and depth in the atmosphere. The subject matter of the painting is familiar and recognizable without understanding the subtext in the work of art. The message of love and disloyalty in a relationship is common in our society. The beholder of the images can reflect on their relationship for the better or worse. This emotional response challenges the decisions we make in a marriage or alliance to a partner. It forces the viewer to rethink their perception of love and express it in an honest and respectful way.
Karel Philips Spierincks’creative composition of Jupiter and Callisto successfully communicates the message of love. The abundance of symbolism and subtext in Jupiter and Callisto leaves the observer with something more to explore and to understand during a second viewing. The naturalistic characters created by Spierncks gives it the humanizing effect of the work of art. However, the angelic wings of the cupids transform it into a mythological scene of representational art. Spierncks talented use of oil paints and smart use of colors distinguishes the scene by adding texture, volume, and depth. Spierncks taps into the mythical idea of Jupiter and Callisto by creating a scene that is full of implications regarding their relationship through the manipulation of Callisto and the betrayal of Jupiter’s wife. The images interestingly hold the attention of the viewer resulting in a work of art that is good and meets the intended purpose. After all, Karel Philips Spierincks’ classical artwork is found in one of the most prestigious art museums in the world located in Philadelphia Museum of Art.
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