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Mythological & Allegorical Paintings
Mythology and allegory were some of the most often-used literary devices in the history of painting through the end of the 19th century. In an allegory, such as in many children's fairytales and Aesop's fables, the characters and events of the story symbolize ideas about human life or political or historical situations. Mythology is a set of allegories, examples of which include the myths created by the Greeks and restyled by the Romans.
In historic European cultures, not everyone knew or understood the stories from mythology. Therefore, incorporating references to mythology separated a class of people who could fully appreciate the meaning embedded in a painting.
In the fine painting tradition, art with mythology was considered the highest and best. This tradition fell away as painting ceased to be literary and became more concerned with surface, color, and line in the 20th century.
Sotheby’s New York sold a very interesting mythological painting, "Dispute Between Poseidon and Athena for Supremacy Over Attica," which was painted by Fabrizio Moretti circa the 1490s, for $75,000 on January 29, 2015
Before the rise of painting, kings ordered tapestries filled with mythological figures as a way to display the king’s magnificence for his court and guests
The Moretti painting includes a horse, the gift to Athens from Poseidon; and an olive tree, a peace offering from Athena. Mercury announces the judges’ choice: Athena has won the contest