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The Rape of Proserpine, about 1733

François de Troy
The Rape of Proserpine, about 1733
French, 1679–1752
oil on canvas
41.5 x 48 inches (105.41 x 121.92 cm)
Acquired with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Raclin

Jean-François de Troy earned a reputation as one of France’s finest history painters during the first half of the eighteenth century, and from 1738 to 1751 he held the prestigious position of director of the French Academy in Rome. The popularity of his style was based on his ability to combine the monumentality of Peter Paul Rubens with the careful gesture and expression of Charles Le Brun.

The Greek myth of Proserpine, featuring uncontrollable love, violence, loss, death, and the seasons, has been a European favorite for three thousand years. The details de Troy used suggest that his source was the Latin poet Ovid’s version, from his book The Metamorphoses. The painting depicts the beginning of the tale, when Cupid aims his arrow of love at Pluto, lord of the underworld. Also illustrated is the middle of the story, when Pluto cannot control his emotions and kidnaps Proserpine, the first woman he sees. She is the daughter of Ceres, goddess of the harvest. De Troy did not include the end of the story, the creation of the cycle of summer and winter, but assumed that viewers would know that Proserpine eventually becomes Pluto’s bride for half the year and spends the remaining six months with her mother, on earth.