Artibus et Historiae no. 59 (XXX)

2009, ISSN 0391-9064

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JAN L. DE JONG - Dido in Italian Renaissance Art. The Afterlife of a Tragic Heroine

This article is a study of some Italian paintings and prints from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries illustrating Virgil's story of the suicide of Dido, Queen of Carthage and lover of Aeneas. The theme of Dido's voluntary death was problematic, as suicide was condemned by the Church. Moreover, contrary to such Roman heroines as Lucretia, Dido did not take her life to save her virtuous reputation, but because her status had been ruined since her lover Aeneas had decided to leave her. A distinction is made between depictions showing Dido and Aeneas together, and pictures showing her alone. In the former case, Dido personifies the seductions of love and lust, that keep men (Aeneas) from pursuing their quest for a higher destination. In the latter case, Dido is represented as a warning example showing the dramatic consequences of a woman's irresponsible behaviour.

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