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1 Wood's article discusses the 1627 rape cycle of Jupiter and Europa, Pluto and Proserpina, and Neptune and Amphitrite painted for the Roman palace of Marchese Enzo Bentivoglio and Cardinal Guido Bentivoglio. As Wood initially suggests (and as the title of her article proclaims), this is an excellent example of rape as absolutist government and cosmic harmony. She shows that the same three rapes figured in the theatrical festivities planned by Enzo Bentivoglio for a Bentivoglio wedding. And the same three gods offer their crowns to the Bentivoglio coat of arms in a print by Cantarini. In an adjoining room
, Giovanni da San Giovanni even painted a Perseus and Medusa
. Despite all this evidence, Wood suddenly claims that absolutist power is not key to the Bentivoglio rapes. She correctly notes that these three gods divided the cosmos into three dominions but claims this dominion was never connected in classical literature to rape. This neglects Ovid's account of Pluto raping Proserpina, a narrative which begins by describing how the dominions of the three gods are surpassed by the universal rule of Venus secured by inflaming Pluto with love for Proserpina.
Wood suggests absolutism is not key, in part because no explicit reference to the Bentivoglio family appears in the room with the rape cycle. Here she strangely neglects the glaring connection with the Bentivoglio family established by the appearance of these rape frescoes in their private residence. And while she contrasts the lack of Bentivoglio insignia in the room with the rapes to the presence of such insignia in the nearby room where the same artist painted Perseus with the Head of Medusa, she misses the smoking gun she thinks she needs to connect rape with absolutist power. In the illusionistic frame of the Perseus and Medusa, Giovanni da San Giovanni painted two small scenes of mythological rape attempts, Apollo and Daphne and Pan and Syrinx. Clearly visible in her own illustration, this rape narratives, and the more violent, misogynist image of absolutist rule shown in the Perseus, underscore the absolutist ideology of the three rape frescoes Giovanni painted in the adjoining rooms.
Wood also suggests that territorial dominion and absolutism are not central to the Bentivoglio rapes because Jupiter is shown presiding over the waters, with a rape of Europa, not over his proper domain of the heavens, as might have been clear in a Rape of Ganymede. This argument overlooks the intensely problematic nature of the raped Ganymede in the Roman palace of a Post-Tridentine cardinal.
In my view, every representation of a rape committed by Jupiter, Pluto, Neptune, or Apollo which appears in court art between 1550 and 1700 works to represent absolutist power, among other things. Perhaps the Bentivoglio princes chose the rape of Europa because it was already used in Roman imperial literature to signify the divinely-ordained rule of Europe and, by implication, of Rome. Horace's Venus rebuked a tearful Europa in such terms.
Cease thy sobs! Learn to bear becomingly thy great destiny! A region of the earth shall take thy name."
Such thinking was widespread after 1550 when secular and Catholic princes made the global rule of Europa and Rome (or the "new Romes" of Madrid, London, and Paris) into a commonplace of absolutist geography. The global dominion of Europa was particularly important to Roman Catholic imperial discourse. The Bentivoglio may also have chosen Europa alongside the watery triumph of Pluto to represent papal naval victories, real, or divinely ordained, over the Turkish fleet.