(click image to enlarge)
As a student of the Royal Academy Schools in the 1770s, Thomas Rowlandson would have been required to emulate classical models by drawing from casts of antique sculpture. At the same time, he would also have absorbed many of the historical and mythological stories that such sculpture represents. He maintained these interests throughout his career, continuing to produce both serious and satirical images based on mythological subjects.
Jupiter & Juno exemplifies Rowlandson’s art at its most purely neoclassical, and suggests a response to the outline illustrations by his almost exact contemporary, John Flaxman, to Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey, published in 1793. However, it may also have been influenced by a more seductive Renaissance model, Titian’s Jupiter, Juno and Io, which hung at Blenheim Palace (until it was destroyed by fire in 1861), and was reproduced by John Smith in 1709. Smith based his mezzotint most directly on an engraving by Jacopo Caroglio (died 1565). Caroglio is perhaps best known for his collaborations with Rosso Fiorentino and Perino del Vaga, including Loves of the Gods, an erotic series of prints that Rowlandson admired. Rowlandson referenced the series in his satirical print, Modern Antiques (circa 1811), in which a book with the title Loves of the Gods lies beneath a young couple embracing in a mummy case.
The king and queen of the Roman gods, Jupiter and Juno (known in Greek as Zeus and Hera) were both siblings and spouses. Rowlandson seems to show them at an early stage in their relationship, before Juno’s ‘conjugal happiness’ became ‘frequently disturbed by the numerous amours of her husband’ and ‘showed herself jealous and inexorable in the highest degree’ (as explained by John Lemprière in his highly popular classical dictionary, Bibliotheca Classica, first published in 1788).
With thanks to Nick Knowles for contributing information to this note.