In the first of these two articles about paintings of the classical personifications of the winds, I showed those of Zephyrus, the west wind, and Flora, goddess of the Spring. This concluding article looks at the equally ungentlemanly behaviour of Boreas, the north wind and harbinger of winter, with the Athenian princess Orithyia (and various spellings). When she spurned his advances he flew her up into the clouds and raped her. She bore him two sons and two daughters, one of whom was Chione, goddess of snow.
Peter Paul Rubens painted Boreas Abducting Orithyia in about 1620, at the peak of his career. Boreas is shown in his classical guise, as a roughly-bearded old man with wings, which comply in detail with Ovid’s description of their colour in his Metamorphoses. He’s sweeping Orithyia up in his arms, while a cluster of Cupids are engaged in a snowball fight: a lovely touch of humour, and a subtle reference to winter.
A few years later, probably in about 1640, Giovanni Francesco Romanelli painted Boreas Abducting Orithyia. Here Boreas has made his getaway with Orithyia, and is flying over a wintry landscape with a Cupid escort.
Sebastiano Conca’s Boreas Abducting Orithyia from about 1720 shows Boreas taking off with Orithyia from a riverbank and her friends, some of whom are decorating a herm statue (at the right). However, without any reference to winter we have to take the identity of the couple on trust.
Francesco Solimena seems to have been the first painter to depict Boreas as a much younger man, in his Boreas Abducting Orithyia, Daughter of Erechtheus (1729). He has also elaborated the scene considerably, with Orithyia’s friends tugging at Boreas’ cloak to try to restrain him, Cupid preparing to shoot one of his arrows at Orithyia, and general panic ensuing. Again, there seems no specific reference to winter.
François Boucher delivers a full Rococo interpretation in Boreas Abducting Orithyia (1769). The lead actors seem far less engaged, with Boreas devoting his efforts to blowing his wind at Orithyia’s friends, and the ground to the right bearing witness to his destructive force.
In 1822, Joseph-Ferdinand Lancrenon’s romantic interpretation of Boreas Abducting Orithyia strips out all the other figures, and shows just the couple. Boreas is now quite youthful, and Orithyia’s eyes are closed as if she is in a swoon, or asleep. Although the sky is dark and stormy, there is nothing wintry to indicate that this is Boreas rather than any other winged figure. Links to the original narrative are being lost.
Charles William Mitchell’s The Flight of Boreas with Orithyia from 1893 returns to a fuller and more classical account. Although not as old as in the earlier paintings, Boreas is no longer a mere stripling. Orithyia is trying to push his head away, and unfasten his right hand from her thigh, but Boreas is just about to take her airborne. Around them the spring flowers and trees are being blasted by his north wind.
Evelyn De Morgan has the rare distinction of painting Boreas twice. In her earlier Boreas and Orithyia from about 1896, Boreas is bearing Orithyia aloft, above rugged hills and water. He is younger again, and looks decidedly miserable. In addition to a pair of magnificent wings on his back, he has accessory wings on each heel. Long white and blue sheets wind calligraphically around the couple, but there’s a lack of wintry symbols.
In 1910-14, Evelyn De Morgan revisited the north wind in her Boreas and the Fallen Leaves, where Orithyia is missing. Here, the wind blows sufficiently to tear the golden leaves of autumn from the trees, and cover a total of eight women who loop round from dancing to crouching on the ground. Here comes that first cold blast of approaching winter.
To the best of my knowledge, Gustave Moreau is the only other well-known painter to show Boreas in his wintry role.
Moreau’s sketch of Phoebus and Boreas from 1879 shows Phoebus Apollo in his sun chariot at the left, and Boreas to the right of centre. This results in the cold, windy and changeable weather typical of the winter, as shown in the clouds.
My final painting doesn’t identify the wind, but he could be Euros, the easterly wind who brings storms in the Mediterranean.
Franz von Stuck’s Wind and Wave (c 1927) is a vibrant and uncluttered scene of a winged figure blowing over the body of a sea nymph. As in classical painting, von Stuck shows streamlines being blown from the zephyr’s mouth. This may be thoroughly mythological, but it also has a meaningful physical interpretation, in showing how the wind generates the waves of the sea.