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“Gods & Goddesses” Revealed: Art League Edition

If the portraits in “Everyday Gods & Goddesses” seem almost alive — if you think you see their eyes wink as you turn your head, and you wonder if they visit each other, Harry Potter-style, at night — well, that’s just your imagination. But these paintings do have stories, both ancient and modern, behind the canvas. Today’s tale: Persephone & Minerva.

Persephone and Minerva, oil on canvas by Linda Lawler.
Persephone and Minerva, oil on canvas by Linda Lawler.

“The Goddess of Wisdom, Art, and Science. That pretty much sums up Rose.”

“Another beauty, frequently seen as she goes about her work here at The Art League, Erica’s determined and focused expression could easily be misinterpreted as sadness.”

— Linda Lawler, placards for Minerva and Persephone

These portraits bring to life two familiar Art League personalities: Communications Director Erica Fortwengler and Gallery Director Rose O’Donnell as the classical goddesses Persephone and Minerva, aliases Prosperpina and Athena.

Before they worked together at The Art League, these two were said to be neighbors in Sicily, along with the goddess Diana (who can also be found in the exhibit). Also on Sicily: a cave entrance to the underworld, where Hades abducted Persephone on his magic chariot in the most well-known story about her. The fruit in the painting comes from the myth: Persephone is rescued from Hades, but must return once a year because she ate a few seeds from an underworld pomegranate. This is the origin of winter, when Persephone’s mother, the agriculture goddess Demeter, halts growth until her daughter returns from Hades.

The famous story got the Igor Stravinsky treatment in his little-performed opera-ballet titled Persephone. (Part of the 2012 Teatro Real performance in Madrid can be seen on YouTube here.)

Ready for a weird myth? Have you heard the one about how Minerva was born? Jupiter, not always the smartest of the pantheon, had swallowed Minerva’s mother, fearing she would give birth to a son who would overthrow him. After a while, he started to struggle with a headache of divine proportions.

The smith god Vulcan performed emergency surgery in the form of an axe to Jupiter’s forehead, and out sprang the fully-grown Minerva in full armor and carrying a spear. Ouch. These days, Rose usually leaves her armor and spear at home, but she will show you if you ask politely.

Come see these goddesses in person and in paint through May 6 (this Monday!). More about the exhibit is here.

Minerva's unusual birth depicted by a Greek artist and recreated in a 19th-century print. (Image via the New York Public Library)
Minerva’s unusual birth depicted by a Greek artist and recreated in a 19th-century print. (Image via the New York Public Library)

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