Ovid relates part of their story in an imaginary letter from Oenone, reproaching Paris for his unfaithfulness, and other aspects of the tale appear in different classical sources. In 1594, the English playwright Thomas Heywood, published an epic poem about Paris and Oenone, so it would have been a subject well known to an educated seventeenth-century audience. Cornelis himself painted another version in about 1600, which is known primarily from an engraving in reverse by Jan Saenredam (fig. 1).2 The compositions are quite similar but in the painting here Oenone is in a more upright position and the figures are more clearly turned toward one another. In front of them the artist has placed a small still life of fruits, and he has added several figures to the scene. At the right is a young boy with a kid, and it is unclear whether the child is just a herder or Corythus, their son. At the left is a large black and white hound.
These additional figures, as well as the central couple itself, are part of a repertory of characters and poses that recur in Cornelis’ work from the late 1590s onwards. The female nude leaning on her elbow and raising her other hand appears as Venus in Venus and Adonis, formerly in the Kiev Museum (Van Thiel 1999, cat. no. 167, pl. 206) and Venus, Bacchus and Ceres in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden (Van Thiel 1999, cat. no. 173, pl. 213), while the child is very much the same type as numerous cupids in various scenes depicting the loves of the gods and other similar subjects. The hound is also a familiar figure, though most often seen in the Fall of Man, most notably the painting in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (Van Thiel 1999, cat. no. pl. XI). By 1616, the date of this picture, Cornelis had abandoned the extreme Mannerism of the Haarlem Academy and turned toward a more classicizing approach. Here in Paris and Oenone it is balanced with an elegance and eroticism that gives the picture its remarkable appeal.
1 Van Thiel cites an article referring to the present work, by M. Hoog, in La Revue des Arts, which in fact relates to another painting; see Van Thiel 1999, p. 353.
2 There is a small panel, now lost, which Van Thiel considers a modello for the print, though other authors disagree. See Van Thiel 1999, p. 415, cat. no. MP 5.
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