Titian - The Rape of Europa, 1559-1562

Titian (Pieve di Cadore, about 1488 - 1576, Venice)

The Rape of Europa, 1559-1562

Oil on canvas, 178 x 205 cm (70 1/16 x 80 11/16 in.)


Object details

Accession number



Painted for Philip II, King of Spain (1527–1598) between 1559 and 1562 in Venice.
Shipped to Madrid between March and April 1562; with Philip II by summer 1562.
By inheritance to Philip III, King of Spain (1568–1621).
By inheritance to Philip IV, King of Spain (1605–1665).
Given to Charles I of England (1600–1649), then Prince of Wales, in anticipation of his wedding to Philip IV's sister in 1623 but the painting was left in Madrid after marriage negotiations broke down.
Transferred to one of the rooms of the Cuarto Bajo de Verano in the north-eastern part of Alcázar, where it was seen by Cassiano dal Pozzo in 1626 (Cassiano dal Pozzo 2004 edn, pp. 230-1).
Recorded in the same room with four other poesie in the 1636 inventory of Alcázar (Martinez Leiva and Rodriguez Rebollo 2007, p. 183, no. 1103), with several other mythological works by Titian.
By inheritance to Charles II, King of Spain (1661-1700).
Listed in the 1666 inventory of Alcázar (inv.941), in a different room adjacent to the Garden of Roman Emperors, on the ground floor in the south-eastern part of the palace.
Recorded in the same room, now nicknamed the Bóvedas de Tiziano, in the 1686 inventory of Alcázar (inv. 891).
By inheritance to Philip V, King of Spain (1683–1746).
Presented to Antoine, 4th Duc de Gramont (1641–1720), French ambassador to the Spanish court in 1704, together with the two Dianas from the series of poesie.
Presented to the French regent, Philippe II, duc d'Orléans (1674–1723) probably around 1707 and certainly before 1721.
Installed in the western part of the Palais Royal in Paris, in the so-called Galerie à Lanterne, where it remained until the French Revolution (inv. 465).
By descent to Louis-Philippe-Joseph, duc d'Orléans (Philippe Égalité, 1747–1793).
Sold to Édouard de Walckiers (1758–1837) of Brussels (but resident in Paris) from Orléans in 1792.
Sold in the same year to his cousin François-Louis-Joseph de Laborde-Méréville (1761–1801), Paris.
Transported to London in 1793 and consigned to Jeremiah Harman (1763–1844).
Sold in 1798 to the dealer Michael Bryan (1757–1821), acting on behalf of a British syndicate consisting of Francis Egerton, 3rd Duke of Bridgewater (1736–1803), his nephew George Granville Leveson-Gower, Earl of Gower (1758–1833), later 2nd Marquess of Stafford and 1st Duke of Sutherland, and Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle (1748–1825), husband of Lord Gower's sister.
Purchased by Thomas Noel Hill, 2nd Baron of Berwick (1770–1832), at the Bryan Orléans collection sale at the Lyceum, London on 26 December 1798, lot 220 for 700 guineas (J.I. Armstrong-Totten in New Orleans 2018, p. 250, no. 465).
Acquired by John Bligh, 4th Earl of Darnley (1767–1831), Cobham Hall, Kent by 1816.
By descent to John Stuart Bligh, 6th Earl of Darnley (1827–1896), Cobham Hall, Kent in 1831.
Purchased by the art dealers Colnaghi & Co., London on 15 June 1896 for £14,000.
Purchased by Isabella Stewart Gardner from Colnaghi & Co., June 1896 for £20,000 through the American art historian Bernard Berenson (1865–1959).


Signed beneath the foot of the putto riding the dolphin (lower left): TITIANVS.P.
Label measuring 2 x 1.5 cm (recto, lower right corner): no 715 [?]
Label inscribed (vertical crossbar of the stretcher, top): No. 257.
Red label printed (vertical crossbar of the stretcher, top): Exhibition/of/TREASURES/1857/The Earl Darnley [in pen] Proprietor
Label printed (vertical crossbar of the stretcher, top): 1
Fragmentary label inscribed in pen and ink (vertical crossbar of the stretcher, upper right): 12 -/ - wope


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Rights and reproductions

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Titian’s Rape of Europa, painted in Venice in the 1560s, is inspired by a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Infatuated with Europa, Jupiter—king of the gods—transforms himself into a beautiful white bull and joins a herd grazing near the seashore. Europa, close by with her companions, approaches the beautiful creature with hand outstretched. Finding him tame, she plays with the bull in a meadow and entwines flowers around his horns. When she climbs playfully on his back, the mischievous god seizes the opportunity and springs into the sea, spiriting away the target of his affections while she clings to him in terror.
Jupiter races across the ocean and Europa holds on by one horn. Gazing back over her shoulder toward the shoreline, she waves a red silk veil to attract attention. Europa’s companions respond with their own frantic signals (note the herd of cows still grazing to their left). Titian dramatizes her immediate danger of drowning by positioning in the foreground a menacing, scaly sea monster bristling with spines. Nearby a cupid chases after Europa on a dolphin. His pose mimics hers, perhaps poking fun at her plight. The forced union of Europa and Jupiter eventually led to a historic event: the birth of Minos, king of Crete and the Minoans, the first European civilization.
With the help of Bernard Berenson, Isabella Stewart Gardner bought Titian’s Rape of Europa from the Earl of Darnley in 1896, and it became the crown jewel of her museum’s growing collection. When the painting arrived in Boston, she wrote with delight to Berenson, “I am back here tonight . . . after a two days’ orgy. The orgy was drinking myself drunk with Europa and then sitting for hours in my Italian Garden at Brookline, thinking and dreaming about her.” The eclectic and highly personal grouping of objects surrounding Europa reflects Isabella Gardner’s bold and imaginative approach to installation. Below the painting Gardner placed a textile with a tassel pattern echoing the bull's tail, from a ball gown by her favorite designer, Worth of Paris. On the left table, an Italian bronze cupid lying on its side mimics the painted cupids above, and the design on the enamel platter suggests splashing water. What other connections can you find?


Pieter de Jode II

Isabella of Portugal

Anthony van Dyck

The Rape of Europa

Anton Maria Mitelli

Europa and the Bull