The story of Meleager is first told in The Iliad, but it is later accounts, such as in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, that recount the specific episode depicted in van Loo’s painting.3 Meleager was the son of the king of Calydon in Aetolia. His father offended the goddess Diana who sent a wild boar to terrorize the countryside. Meleager and his companions set out to hunt and kill the boar. Among this group was Atalanta, the virgin huntress, whom Meleager loved. She was the first to wound the boar and when it was finally killed, Meleager presented her with the head and pelt of the beast. This is the moment depicted in van Loo’s painting as Meleager, gazing tenderly at Atalanta, hands her the prize. Van Loo was possibly inspired by Rubens' painting of the same subject of circa 1616 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, acc. no. 44.22), which was engraved by Cornelis Bloemaert. It depicts the same point in the story with very similar interaction between Meleager and Atalanta.
The irregular shape of this canvas suggests that it probably once formed part of a decorative scheme. Another version of this composition by van Loo, slightly larger and with a regular shaped canvas, is in the Museum Wiesbaden (on deposit from the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, 156 by 165 cm.).
1. Strydt tusschen de Doodt en Natuur of Zeege der Schilderkunst, (Battle Between Death and Nature, or Victory of the Art of Painting), Jan Vos, 1654.
2. See Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck, Rembrandt's Master Pupils, exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam 2017, p. 17, with a reproduction of the notarial document, fig. 2.
3. The Iliad Book 9, 430-605 and Metamorphoses Book 8, 260-546.
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