Leda and the Swan


Achilles De Maertelaere was quite fond of mythological themes. The most well-known scenes are undoubtedly those of "Leda and the Swan".

A character of Greek mythology, Leda was the wife of Tyndarus, the king of Sparta. Zeus, well known for his love of women, had cast his eyes over this beautiful woman. To escape from his wife, the jealous Hera, Zeus transformed himself into a swan to seduce Leda. Their love affairs were productive, since Leda, pregnant by her husband Tyndare of Clytemnestra and Castor, also gave birth to Helen (the beautiful Helen) and Pollux, works of Zeus. Leda is one of the very numerous 'victims' of the pre-Me Too Zeus... Zeus used to transform himself to seduce his victims: golden rain, fire or flame, bull, bear, eagle, cuckoo, vulture, snake...

At Bentos, we find Leda in two different versions.

In the first case, Leda is generally represented from the back, standing, with a swan nearby. At least five paintings use this theme. Such a Leda, front or back, is already found in Antiquity, particularly in a mosaic from Paphos (Cyprus), but the theme will also be frequently used later, including by Leonardo da Vinci.

In the other case, it is rather the intimate relationship between a lying Leda and the Swan that is represented. The scene is much more explicit and depicts the two protagonists in the middle of a love affair. Here too, the theme is found since antiquity and later, notably in Veronese, Michelangelo or Peter Paul Rubens. Magnificent sculptures, notably by Bartolomeo Ammanati (in the 16th century) or A.E. Carrier-Belleuse (in the 19th century) are also part of this tradition.

It is undoubtedly in these classical works that Achilles Bentos found his inspiration.

Leda did not fail to inspire many artists of all periods. In literature, certainly the poem by William Butler Yeats:

Leda and the Swan

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still

Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed

By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,

He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push

The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?

And how can body, laid in that white rush,

But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there

The broken wall, the burning roof and tower

And Agamemnon dead.

Being so caught up,

So mastered by the brute blood of the air,

Did she put on his knowledge with his power

Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

Translated with the help of DeepL