mythological art, women of mythology


In the Greek Mythology, Echo was an Oread, a mountain nymph who lived in the Mont Cithaeron. Probably the most famous story about her is that of her love for Narcissus and how she was unable to confess it. Her story is present in Ovid’s Metamorphoses and in some literary works of medieval era.

Echo was one of the many lovers of Zeus, and for following his orders when his wife Hera came in an attempt to catch him, Echo tried to protect him by distracting Hera. As punishment, Hera made her unable to speak anymore, she could only repeat the last words spoken to her. For this reason, when she met Narcissus and fell in love with him, she could not confess her feelings for him; she follow him until the lake, being a witness of how he fell in love with his own image reflected and his death. She mourned for him and eventually died away herself, leaving behind only her voice.

Echo and Narcissus by J. W. Waterhouse, 1903 -Walker Art Gallery
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Echo appears in another story: the story of Daphnis and Chloe in which Daphnis tell Chloe the story of Echo. In this tale, Echo was not a nymph but a mortal who raised among the nymphs, she learned music with the Muses and was a virtuous musician; what aroused the envy and anger of Pan.

Echo and Narcissus by Nicolas Poussin, 1630 – Musée du Louvre
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pan drove the men of the fields so mad, that they acted like wild animals, they tore Echo apart and scattered the still singing fragments of her body across the earth. As a favour to the nymphs, Gaia hid the shreds of Echo within herself providing a shelter for her music; at the Muses command Echo’s body keep singing, imitating with perfection the sound of any earthly thing.

In Art

Écho by Alexandre Cabanel, 1874 – MET
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is well known that mythological characters have been a source of inspiration for many artists throughout the history of art. And with Echo could not be different. Most of the works I found were paintings, from Baroque, Classicism until the 1990s. Almost all of them refer to Echo and Narcissus’s myth, there are especially depictions of the moment when she watches how Narcissus fell in love with himself. In some, Echo is depicted alone. I selected to this post, those I consider most representative of the myth.

Considering that it is a story of a woman cursed by a woman for defending an adulterous man in the first version, and a victim of male violence in the second; it is interesting to note how the artists almost always chose the love story with Narcissus instead of any other part of the myth.

Narcissus and the nymph Echo by Zinaida Serebriakova, 1916-17
(Photo credit: WikiArt)

Unfortunately, I could find only one painting of a woman artist.


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