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Athena Scorning the Advances of Hephaestus

Athena Scorning the Advances of Hephaestus
Paris Bordone
(Italian-Venetian, 1500-1571)
Athena Scorning the Advances of Hephaestus
ca. 1555-1560
Oil on canvas
(61.78)
(Kress Study Collection, K 1112)

The Venetian painter Paris Bordone was an important mid-sixteenth century Mannerist artist. He received prestigious commissions from the Venetian government, wealthy merchants, and nobles. Like most Mannerists, he focused attention on beautiful compositions and elegant original poses in his work. Although the original patron and setting for Athena Scorning the Advances of Hephaestus is unknown, scholars suggest that it may have been part of a decorative mural cycle on the walls or ceiling of a Venetian house.

Although most scholars are now in agreement that the painting represents Athena and Hephaestus, other titles have been suggested in the past, including Thetis and Hephaestus and Aphrodite and Hephaestus. The most convincing source for the iconography of the painting is, however, the following account by Apollodorus:

Athena came to Hephaestus, desirous of fashioning arms. But he, being forsaken by Aphrodite, fell in love with Athena, and began to pursue her; but she fled. When he got near her with much ado (for he was lame), he attempted to embrace her; but she, being a chaste virgin, would not submit to him, and he ejaculated on the leg of the goddess. In disgust she wiped of the semen with wool and threw it to the ground; and as she fled, the ejaculate fell to the ground, and Erichthonius was produced.

If one assumes that the painting depicts this classical story, the prominent representation of the bare thigh of Athena fits well into the narrative. During the Renaissance, the story and image might have been interpreted as an allegory of the productive power of unrequited love.

[The faint image of an arm and a hand to the left of Hephaestus' torso reflects a change in the original composition. Bordone later painted over the arm, but the surface has deteriorated slightly over time, leaving the arm visible.]

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