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Subjects of the Visual Arts: Ganymede  

Ganymede, a Phrygian shepherd or hunter, was the son of Tros, the legendary king of Troy. Taken with his remarkable beauty, Jupiter abducted the youth to serve as cup bearer to the Olympian gods.

In some literary versions of the story, such as Ovid's Metamorphoses 10:152-161, Jupiter transforms himself into an eagle to snatch the youth from earth; while in others, such as Virgil's Aeneid 5:252-257, Jupiter sends an eagle to fetch the boy.

In art Ganymede is most often depicted with the eagle and is sometimes accompanied by a dog.

Since antiquity Ganymede has served as an artistic expression for homosexuality. The ancient popularity of the myth is apparent by the frequent vase depictions of Jupiter giving Ganymede a cockerel, a common gift to youths from older male admirers. The theme also appears in ancient statuary, where Jupiter lovingly embraces the Phrygian youth.

The myth becomes less common in the Middle Ages, but still occurs in literature, manuscript illumination, and sculptural decoration as a subject of censure, warning viewers not to follow the sinful ways of the pagan immortals.

In the Renaissance, the figure recovers its earlier popularity through the Italian humanists. While they sometimes turn the myth into an allegory of the soul's ascent toward Heaven, as in Alciati's Emblemata, it most often serves as a symbol of male homosexuality, particularly of , the love of an older man for a youth.

Ganymede's homoerotic tradition flourishes at this time in the art of Michelangelo, Correggio, Parmigianino, and Giulio Romano.

However, by the mid-sixteenth century, reformers in the Catholic Church begin to frown upon mythology and nudity in art. As a consequence, Ganymede's popularity begins to wane. There are depictions of the youth in seventeenth-century Italian art, such as Annibale Carracci's Rape of Ganymede (1596-1600) and Pietro da Cortona's Planetary Rooms (1641), but they appear with less frequency and most lack any homoerotic charge.

While Ganymede also appears in Dutch and English art of the time, in such works as Rembrandt's The Rape of Ganymede (1635), Rubens' Rape of Ganymede (1635), and Inigo Jones' Coelum Brittanicum (1634), and continues to be depicted in French art into the early nineteenth century, the allegory never again attains the notoriety it enjoyed in sixteenth-century Italy.

Peter R. Griffith


zoom in
Three representations of the rape of Ganymede:
Top: An ancient Greek sculpture (ca 470 B. C. E.).
Center: A painting by Correggio (1531).
Above: A painting by Rembrandt van Rijn (1635).

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   Related Entries
arts >> Overview:  Classical Art

Ancient Greek and Roman art represents a variety of homoerotic experience in several different ways.

literature >> Overview:  Classical Mythology

The Greco-Roman myths concerning same-sex love have been of crucial importance to the Western gay and lesbian literary heritage, both as texts and as icons.

arts >> Overview:  European Art: Renaissance

The various cultural patterns, especially the conditions of artistic production and the types of subjects and themes represented, provide a great deal of evidence about Renaissance sexuality and art.

social sciences >> Overview:  Greece: Ancient

The institution of pederasty (paiderastia) was a conspicuous feature of ancient Greek public and private life, but other forms of male-male sexual relations flourished in the Greco-Roman cosmopolis of the second and third centuries C.E.

arts >> Correggio (Antonio Allegri)

One of the most innovative Italian painters of the sixteenth century, Corregio (Antonio Allegri) devised a highly original manner than anticipates the Baroque style of the seventeenth century.

arts >> Michelangelo Buonarroti

The most famous artist who ever lived, Michelangelo left an enormous legacy in sculpture, painting, drawing, architecture, and poetry; while the artist's sexual behavior cannot be documented, the homoerotic character of his drawings, letters, and poetry is unmistakable.

arts >> Parmigianino (Francesco Mazzola)

Although little is reliably known of the private life of sixteenth-century Italian Renaissance painter Parmigianino, his superbly refined and tortuously complex style has often appealed to a gay male audience sensitive to the extremes of taste embodied by Mannerism.


Barkan, Leonard. Transforming Passion: Ganymede and the Erotics of Humanism. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1991.

Forsyth, Ilene H. "The Ganymede Capital at Vézelay." Gesta 15 (1976): 241-246.

Kempter, Gerda. Ganymed: Studien zur Typologie, Ikonographie und Ikonologie. Köln: Böhlau Verlag,1980.

Panofsky, Erwin. Studies in Iconology. New York: Harper & Row, 1972.

Russell, Margarita. "The Iconography of Rembrandt's Rape of Ganymede." Simiolus 9 (1977): 5-18.

Saslow, James. Ganymede in the Renaissance. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986.

Worley, Michael Preston. "The Image of Ganymede in France, 1730-1820: The Survival of a Homoerotic Myth." Art Bulletin 76 (1994): 630-643.


    Citation Information
    Author: Griffith, Peter R.  
    Entry Title: Subjects of the Visual Arts: Ganymede  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated October 14, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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