Europa and the Bull by Gustave Moreau, circa 1869.
I used to love taking philosophy and art theory classes. So when I found Gustave Moreau I was immediately fond of his work, especially that of his Europa paintings. In Greek mythology, Europa was a Phoenician woman of high lineage. The origin of her name suggests that Europa represented a lunar cow, at least at some symbolic level. Metaphorically, \it could be construed as the intelligent or open-minded, analogous attributed to Athena.Europe was actually named after this woman. The story was a Cretan story, as Kerenyi points out; "most of the love-stories concerning Zeus originated from more ancient tales describing his marriages with goddesses. This can especially be said of the story of Europa." The name Europa occurs in the list of daughters of primordial Oceanus and Tethys; the daughter of the earth-giant Tityas and mother of Euphemus by Poseidon, was also named Europa.
This was of course followed by Rembrant’s famous painting, The Abduction of Europa by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, 1632. The princess Europa is carried away from her companions and across the sea to the distant land that would bear her name by the god Jupiter (in the guise of a white bull).
According to legend, Zeus was enamored of Europa and decided to seduce or ravish her, the two being near-equivalent in Greek myth. He transformed himself into a tame white bull and mixed in with her father's herds. While Europa and her female attendants were gathering flowers, she saw the bull, caressed his flanks, and eventually got onto his back. Zeus took that opportunity and ran to the sea and swam, with her on his back, to the island of Crete. He then revealed his true identity, and Europa became the first queen of Crete. Zeus gave her a necklace made by Hephaestus and three additional gifts: Talos, Laelaps and a javelin that never missed. Zeus later re-created the shape of the white bull in the stars, which is now known as the constellation Taurus. Some readers interpret as manifestations of this same bull the Cretan beast that was encountered by Hercules, the Marathonian Bull slain by Theseus. Roman mythology adopted the tale substituting the god Jupiter for Zeus.
Van Gogh spent his early life working for a firm of art dealers. After a brief spell as a teacher, he became a missionary worker in a very poor mining region. He did not embark upon a career as an artist until 1880. Initially, van Gogh worked only with sombre colours, until he encountered Impressionism and Neo-Impressionism in Paris. He incorporated their brighter colours and style of painting into a uniquely recognizable style, which was fully developed during the time he spent at Arles, France.
Van Gogh arrived on 21 February 1888, at the railroad station in Arles, crossed Place Lamartine, entered the city through the Porte de la Cavalerie. He had ideas of founding a Utopian art colony. His companion for two months was the Danish artist, Christian Mourier-Petersen. In March, he painted local landscapes, using a gridded "perspective frame." Three of his pictures were shown at the annual exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants.
Most of his best-known works were produced in the final two years of his life, during which time he cut off part of his left ear following a breakdown in his friendship with Paul Gauguin. Van Gogh may have been best known for his impressionist painting, Starry Night, but his true obsession was potted sunflowers. He spent many years repainting the same flower arrangement still life pictured below. You can also recognize this obsession in his paintings of his final home were he paints in one of his sunflower paintings, and a vase of sunflowers. Among the Sunflowers paintings are three similar paintings with fifteen sunflowers in a vase, and two similar paintings with twelve sunflowers in a vase. Van Gogh painted the first Vase with Twelve Sunflowers, which is now in the Neue Pinakothek Museum in Munich, Germany, and the first Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers, which is now in National Gallery, London, England, in August 1888 when he was living in Arles southern France. The later similar paintings were painted in January the following year. An earlier series of four still life using sunflowers were painted in Paris in 1887.
Van Gogh began painting in late summer 1888 and continued into the following year. One went to decorate his friend Paul Gauguin's bedroom. The paintings show sunflowers in all stages of life, from fully in bloom to withering. The paintings were innovative for their use of the yellow spectrum, partly because newly invented pigments made new colours possible. In a letter to his brother Theo, van Gogh wrote: the sunflower is mine in a way.
After this he suffered recurrent bouts of mental illness, which led to his suicide
Sunflowers or Vase with Twelve Sunflowers (August 1888) is one of two sunflower paintings with twelve sunflowers.