Atalanta and Hippomenesc. 1612
Oil on canvas, 206 x 297 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
In the Boeotian version of the legend, followed by Ovid (Met. 10:560-707), Atalanta was an athletic huntress. Her way with her suitors was to challenge them to a race in which the loser was punished with death. She remained unbeaten and a virgin until Hippomenes (elsewhere named Melanion) took her on. As they ran he dropped three golden apples, given to him by Venus, and since Atalanta could not resist stopping to pick them up she lost the race. They later made love in a temple of Cybele, which offended the goddess so much that she turned them both into lions.
In the picture Atalanta is shown in the act of stooping to pick up an apple as Hippomenes overtakes her.
There are two versions of this paining, one in Naples and another in Madrid, and recently there have been heated debates about both their autography and dating. While most scholars recognize the Madrid canvas as an autograph work, there have been serious reservations about the Neapolitan canvas, deemed it a workshop copy.Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 12 minutes):
George Frideric Handel: Atalanta, Act 3 (excerpts)