Jupiter in the Guise of Diana and the Nymph Callisto
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cschuster's picture

Sr. Contributor

You're probably going to enjoy this painting a lot more if you don't find out what's about to happen. [Read at your own risk.]

Here's what's going on: Jupiter (aka Zeus) has just brought the Earth back to life after Phaeton burnt up everything in existence by crashing his Dad's chariot made of the sun into the ground. He sees Callisto and, true to Jupiter form, wants to hit that. Being the godly head honcho, Jupiter is well aware that Callisto is in the service of his daughter Diana. He's also well aware of the proviso that being in Diana's service means remaining a virgin. But that's not going to stop Jupiter from making a hard pass. So the best tactic to break the ice he can think of is to transform into the likeness of his own daughter, Diana, and start flirting with her friend.

What isn't pictured is that Callisto discovers Jupiter's trick and tries to escape. So, he rapes her and gets her pregnant. Because all the male gods are terrible, terrible beings. The women aren't much better, since Diana kicks Callisto out of her fan club and Juno, Jupiter's wife, turns her into a bear so she'll never know her son, Arcas. Callisto's son turns out to be a badass hunter and almost kills her one day in the woods. But, Jupiter tries to do good by turning them both into star constellations: The Big and Little Dipper. Instead of, you know, turning her back into a human and owning up to what he did *COUGH* Bill Cosby *COUGH*.

Boucher depicted this scene over and over again, but only this girl-on-girl part of the story. He chose to skip over the whole bits with the rape and unwanted pregnancy and matricide. Being the father of Rococo painting meant keeping things light and upbeat. The real question is why he painted this at all, considering one of his major clients was Mdm. du Pompadour, the favorite mistress of King Louis XV of France. You'd think he'd want to steer clear of commissions or personal projects about myths focusing on the dangers of illicit male/female relationships. 

mhoutzager's picture


Callisto believes that she is being spooned by Diana, when in reality, Jupiter is about to take off his Diana disguise and impregnate Callisto. Questions raised by this painting include:

1) Just exactly how close were Diana and Callisto

2) Assuming they were as close as this painting suggests, how was Jupiter expecting to change Callisto's sexual orientation? Is that what all the extra cupids are for?


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Here is what Wikipedia says about Jupiter and Callisto (Boucher, 1759)

Jupiter and Callisto or The Nymph Callisto Seduced by Jupiter in the Guise of Diana is a 1759 painting by François Boucher, now in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, USA.

It shows Jupiter seducing Callisto whilst disguised as Diana.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Jupiter and Callisto (Boucher, 1759).