Paul Bril was born in Antwerp, a little city within the modern country of Belgium. As Flemish painters, Paul and his brother Matthew were both influential in the realm of landscape paintings. Paul was also very well known for his fresco paintings, which peppered the walls in the Roman Forum (Uffizi Gallery Biography). Paul Bril was also a master engraver who collaborated with many well-known artists in his day, such as Johann Rottenhammer, to perfect different works of art.
This painting by Bril depicts the story told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, a narrative series of poems dedicated to Julius Caesar. Diana the Huntress and her nymph companions lay down their quivers and bows and decide to rest beside a river. Callisto, one of Diana’s companions, is reluctant to take off her clothes to reveal her swollen and growing belly. She became pregnant by Jupiter who disguised himself as Diana, seduced Callisto, and stole her virginity. Bril’s painting captures the pivotal moment when the nymphs and Diana angrily discover her pregnancy and begin to rip the clothes off of helpless Callisto.
This piece brings together Flemish nature scenes and Classical myths into one painting. The Louvre says of his painting that Bril’s, “skillfully organized landscape plays on alternating dark and light areas to create depth. He also uses atmospheric perspective, a technique perfected in the 15th century which consists in using lighter and cooler colors towards the horizon” (Adeline). The bluish transparency of the water and the light sky on the horizon shows the pursuit of this Flemish painter to capture true nature within the world. Bril combines the Classical Greek myth of Diana and Callisto within this very Flemish, natural setting.
The symbolism of purity is captured within the color of Callisto’s garment and the presence of water within this painting. As the Diana discovers Callisto’s defilement, the nymphs viciously tear her blue colored garment from her body. The color blue, which is in reference to water and its purity, is being removed from Callisto’s body to show that she is no longer worthy of wearing such a color. Diana, with her outstretched and condemning arm is conveying that the color of water is only for pure beings. The presence of the water in the back ground of this scene highlights the irony that Callisto’s tarnished secret would be discovered by the most pure element in the world. The water in the background again highlights the stark contrast between its purity and Callisto’s lack of purity. She is not even fit to dip a toe into the water, according to Diana and the nymphs.
Diana, who is identified towards the center of the painting with her arm pointed at Callisto in an accusatory manner, orders the nymphs to carry Callisto away from the water and away from the group of women. Diana is also the only one naked in the painting besides Callisto. Diana, who has a blue garment draped behind her, is completely at ease with her lack of clothing and therefore highlights her purity in stark contrast with Callisto’s nakedness. Callisto is naked because of her wrong doing; Diana is naked because of her virtue. Diana also has one foot dipped in the water that signifies her relationship with purity and water- they encompass her and identify her as a woman. Whereas Callisto is far from the water’s edge and has not relation to it whatsoever.
1. Adeline, Collange. “Landscape with Diana and Callisto.” The Louvre. The Louvre,
2005. Web. 2 Apr. 2012. .
2. Uffizi Gallery. “Paul Bril- Biography.” Virtual Uffizi. Uffizi Gallery, 2011. Web. 2 Apr.