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Titian (Tiziano Vecellio). Europe, 1560-62

Titian (Tiziano Vecellio). Europe, 1560-62.  Oil on canvas, 178 x 205 cm. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, Massachusetts.

In Greek mythology, Taurus is usually associated with Zeus, who adopted the shape of a bull in order to seduce and abduct Europa, the beautiful daughter of the Phoenician King Agenor. Zeus mingled with the king’s herd and, being the most handsome bull there, he got Europa’s attention. When she sat on his back, he rose and headed for the sea. Zeus carried Europa all the way to Crete, where he revealed himself and lavished the princess with presents.

The two had three sons together, including Minos, who grew up to be the famous king of Crete, who built the palace at Knossos where bull games were held and who also sacrificed seven young boys and girls to the Minotaur each year. Zeus later commemorated the bull by placing it among the stars.

An alternative interpretation associates Taurus with the nymph Io, whose line Europa was descended from, who was also seduced by Zeus and then transformed into a heifer when the two were nearly caught by Hera.