The Abduction of Helen, 16th century

Ancient authors, including Homer, tell us that the Roman goddess Venus promised the Trojan prince Paris that he could marry Helen, the most beautiful of mortal women, even though Helen was already married to the king of Sparta. Paris felt entitled to kidnap Helen and take her to Troy. This brutal act triggered the Trojan War. The Greeks attacked and destroyed Troy. A legend arose that Trojans fleeing their burning city founded many cities in Europe, including Rome and Venice. The sex and violence of Helen’s abduction thus gained a veneer of historical import, perfect conditions for producing a best-selling image.

In this scene set on the island of Cythera (dedicated to Venus), two Trojans attempt to drag Helen onto a boat, while a Spartan grabs her sash in a futile effort to save her. The Trojan War plays out in the background.

The Abduction of Helen
Artist Life
c. 1475/1480–c.1534
Accession Number
Catalogue Raisonne
B.209 p.170; D.43 p.291
Curator Approved

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