When Joseph Campbell published his book The Mythic Image in 1974, the Web didn’t exist. I think it’s a joy to be able to retrieve the images of mythology, and famous works of art, in an instant. This thread is for favorite mythic images with perhaps an explanation of the myth, or of why the mythic image is so appealing. I have three offerings:
1614, Guido Reni, Fresco
Casino Rospiglioso, Palazzo Pallavicini, Rome
In this painting, Apollo is being led by Aurora for his daily flight across the sky. It’s a heavenly image, bright and beautiful. There is a sense of movement from left to right in all of the twelve figures, but the four women on our side of the chariot are especially charming and graceful.
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My next image is from The Book of Revelations:
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.... And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.... And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.... And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.
- Revelation, Chapter 6
Albrecht Dürer (German, 1471–1528)
Even though the colors of the horses are given in the scripture, this woodcut is probably the most famous rendition of the image. As with Picasso’s Guernica, color would only be a distraction, diminishing the horrific emotional impact.
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My final offering is also a Christian image:
The AnnunciationIn the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."
Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."
- Luke 1:26-33
Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1898
Oil on canvas
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Artists know how to make the humble majestic. Mary is a very plain looking woman in a room of shades of brown. But there are blue and red sheets to break up the monotony of color and add a touch of royalty to the scene. The angel Gabriel is depicted in elemental form rather than the anthropometric form of an angel with wings. And that light of the angel replaces the mysterious light that comes from a source that is often out of view in earlier Christian art. But what I like about this image is the expression on Mary’s face. She’s supposed to be troubled and fearful according to the scripture. To me it looks like she’s calm and handling the whole thing rather well – just curious as to what is going to happen next. It's like she's saying, 'hmmm - what do you want?'