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The Nurture of Jupiter

The events around the birth and nurture of the infant Jupiter are described by four ancient Greek and Latin poets: Hesiod, Callimachus, Ovid and Virgil. A prophecy had warned the god Saturn that one of his children would defeat him and rule the universe in his place; one after the other he swallowed all five of the children he had fathered with Rhea, to avoid the prediction. When Jupiter was born, Rhea saved him by feeding Saturn a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes and hiding the newborn baby in a cave on Mount Ida on Crete. Jupiter was brought up by two nymphs and nurtured with goat's milk and honey. Fully grown, Jupiter vanquished his father and forced Saturn to disgorge his brothers and sisters, and shared the rule of the world with his brothers Neptune and Pluto. Poussin sets the scene on top of Mount Ida. A burly shepherd restrains the goat Amalthiea by its horns, while a nymph lifts the goat to allow Jupiter to drink its milk. The second nymph behind them gathers honey from a tree trunk. The detail of the sticky honey pouring out of the tree and the bees flying out of their hive is beautifully rendered. In Rome, in the 1630s, bees would have had a particular significance, as they appeared on the coat-of-arms of the reigning pope, Urban VIII, and of his family, the Barberini. Anthony Blunt (1967) described the Nurture of Jupiter as 'one of Poussin's most exquisite paintings for the delicacy of its formal harmony and the subtlety of its colouring, with its honey and aquamarine tones contrasted with a deep blue in the dress of the nymphs'.

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Currently on display

Nicolas Poussin
Gallery 11
96.5 x 121 cm
Oil on canvas
Bourgeois Bequest, 1811
Accession number