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dromero's picture


Who is the person peeking from behind the curtain in Rembrandt’s Danaë?

Well, that would be the Princess Danae’s elderly guardian or nurse, trying to see just what is going on with that strange golden light streaming in directly at her charge. That strange golden light is actually Zeus, who has changed himself into this light in order to impregnate the imprisoned Danae. This is one of the perks of being a mythological god, so why not try it this way and see if it works? It turns out that appearing as a golden ray of light works pretty well: Danae conceives and has a son, Perseus.

This painting is based on a story from Greek mythology where Danae’s father, King Akrisios, locked Danae in a tower (or an underground chamber, depending on version of story) because he learned from a prophesy that her son would grow up to kill him. As we have seen, she does give birth to a son, and when her father finds out, he puts them both in a bronze chest and throws it into the sea. Of course, they both survive and Perseus eventually does indeed cause the death of King Akrisios, but that is another story for another day (or another painting!).

As interesting as this myth is, the account of the painting itself is no slouch, either. First off, this a pretty large painting, even as far as 17th century paintings go. This one measures approximately 6 x 6.5 feet, and it was even larger than that before being cut down, probably in the mid-1640s. Strips from the top, and both sides were cut off; this removed the 2nd left bedpost and other small details. During this same period, Rembrandt reworked this canvas, painting over Danae’s body, the bedding, table, and guardian.

The story of this painting takes a truly disturbing turn when, in 1985, a man described as deranged or bitter, attacked the painting with a knife, cutting near Danae’s belly. Since this did not do enough damage to satisfy this individual, he then proceeded to throw sulfuric acid onto the painting, severely damaging Danae’s legs, arms, and head. To make things even worse, there were no conservators at work that day at the State Hermitage Museum, so eventually two professors from the Institute of Technology arrived and suggested that water be poured, thrown, even spat at the affected areas to help slow the damage.

It was later revealed that the man, a Lithuanian national, had explosives strapped to his legs and had committed this act because, at the age of 48, he was still a virgin and had to take out his sexual frustration on something, because that’s what you do. The restoration took years to complete and it wasn’t until the late 90s that the painting went back on display.



  1. (1636). Canvas (oil; 74" x 81").Retrieved from
  2. "Danae." Greek Mythology. Accessed May 23, 2019.
  3. "Danaë's Bad Acid Trip." The Telegraph. October 04, 1997. Accessed May 28, 2019.
  4. John Russell. "Healing a Disfigured Rembrandt's Wounds: The 'Danae,' Vandalized 12 Years Ago at the Hermitage, is Whole again. it Isn't the Original, an Expert Says, but the Spirit is Intact." New York Times (1923-Current File), Aug 31, 1997. https://sear
  5. Westermann, Mariët, and Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. Rembrandt. London: Phaidon, 2007.
  6. Sluijter, Eric Jan. "Emulating Sensual Beauty: Representations of Danaë from Gossaert to Rembrandt." Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 27, no. 1/2 (1999): 5-45. doi:10.2307/3780877.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Danaë (Rembrandt painting)

Danaë is a painting by the Dutch artist Rembrandt, first painted in 1636, but later extensively reworked by Rembrandt, probably in the 1640s, and perhaps before 1643. Once part of Pierre Crozat's collection, it has been in the Hermitage Museum, in St. Petersburg, Russia since the 18th century.

It is a life-sized depiction of the character Danaë from Greek mythology, the mother of Perseus. She is presumably depicted as welcoming Zeus, who impregnated her in the form of a shower of gold. Given that this is one of Rembrandt's most magnificent paintings, it is not out of the question that he cherished it, but it also may have been difficult to sell because of its eight-by-ten-foot size. Although the artist's wife Saskia was the original model for Danaë, Rembrandt later changed the figure's face to that of his mistress Geertje Dircx.

The reworking changed the positions of, among other things, the head, outstretched arm and legs of Danaë. The painting has been considerably cut down. It has a hard-to-read signature with a date ending in "6", but this may not be genuine.

It was seriously vandalized in 1985, but has been restored.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Danaë (Rembrandt painting).

Comments (1)


Don hits the nail on the head. The world, or all east the art world, would be a better place if people got laid more often: 'at the age of 48, he was still a virgin and had to take out his sexual frustration on something, because that’s what you do'. Great painting, interesting review. Five stars :)