Monday, 20 June 2016

Always put on the Safe Search before Googling 'Showers of Gold'...

I'm sure you will recall from this post we looked at the many and varied images of Perseus and Andromeda, and the many and varied ways of showing a nudey lady tied to a rock.  I got to thinking about Perseus and the myths surrounding his conception and birth and wondered if there were any gorgeous paintings about that...

The Tower of Brass (1887-88) Edward Burne-Jones
 So, once upon a time there was a King who wanted a son.  King Acrisius of Argos already had a perfectly lovely daughter called Danaë, but that wasn't good enough, apparently.  Because he hadn't been paying attention to other myths and legends, he decided to ask the oracle.  If we have learned anything it has to be never ask the oracle! You won't like what you hear...

Danaë in the Brazen Tower Frederick Sandys
The oracle, being a tricksy sod, said that no, King Acrisius would never have a son (boo), but his daughter would (hurrah).  Unfortunately that son would then kill him (oops!).  In a stunning parental move worthy of Disney, King Acrisius decided the best way to avoid being killed by his grandson is to lock his daughter up in a brass tower.  Why brass?  Did they have a lot of tubas hanging around in Argos? (I've looked through the catalogue and never seen one...) It does have bactericidal qualities so possibly it is also spermicidal?  Do men find brass off-putting and un-arousing?  It has to be noted here that another word for 'brass-y' is 'brazen' and I've always though gentlemen like anything brazen, let alone an entire tower of brazen-ness.  Flipping heck...

Danaë Edward Burne-Jones
So, Danaë was locked up in the brass tower with no doors or windows (but probably still better wi-fi coverage than I get) and King Acrisius was content that his daughter would remain childless.  Enter, as it were, Zeus.  There's a god who is never put off by a little thing like walls, so whilst King Daddy managed to keep out the average lusty chap of Argos, he was no match for a god.  See above for a very sweet painting of poor Danaë in her tower being very prettily showered by sparkles.  How lovely.  Of course, if you asked the average painter to show a woman getting a golden shower, the outcome is rather less chaste...

Danaë and the Shower of Gold Eugene Soubiran
Second lesson of the morning, put on the 'safe search' before typing in 'golden shower'.  Trust me. Flipping heck. I suppose if you have been bricked up in a tower with no hope of escape and there are no windows, why bother wearing clothes?  Danaë obviously felt how we all feel some days, that getting dressed is fairly pointless and so was just hanging around in the buff when Zeus turned up.  Now, he had a bit of a history of appearing in the guise of something else, for example bulls, swans, boxes of Ferrero Rocher, because ladies (and the occasional gentleman) like being taken by surprise.  Apparently.  

Danaë and the Shower of Gold (1908) Leon Comerre
I would have thought that appearing as another human being might have been rather good for poor Danaë as not only would she have been happy for a bit of naughty, but also probably would have liked someone to have a natter with, but Zeus is not a man to chat.  So while Danaë lounged about it started raining gold on her.  So astonished and delighted was she that she didn't notice it was somewhat of an isolated shower, isolated mainly to her lady parts.

Danaë (1891) Alexandre Jacques Chantron
I love that Zeus made a whole sky-and-clouds thing in order to have his shower-y way with Danaë.  Did he imagine that made it more normal?  It did give painters a good opportunity to show how good they were at painting skies as well as boobs.  And drapery, lots of drapery.  But not over the boobs, obviously.

Danaë Henri Fantin-Latour
Of course there are some painters who went all blurry and classy about the whole business, which is all very nice as long as there are still boobs.  Fantin-Latour even included a cherub in the vague attempt to make out love had something to do with the whole thing, other than the galloping libido of a scoundrel-god.  Danaë in Fantin-Latour's painting seems to be making the universal gesture of 'is it raining?', and she looks quite pleased.  Mind you, it's probably the most exciting thing that happened that week.

Danaë (1907) Gustav Klimt
Good old Klimt, he can always be relied on to give you a slightly different view of a scene and I love the way Danaë is all curled up as the shower appears in very Klimt-y patterns.  However, this isn't my favourite Danaë image...

Danaë (c.1900) Carolus Duran
This corkingly gorgeous image is my favourite as it is so simple.  Marble-white Danaë is lounging on her massive black velvet beanbag when a strange golden glow appears above.  I'm guessing Duran did a rather nice nude-y lady and then felt he had to justify it.  It's all fine because it's classical, isn't it? Ancient myths and legends - making boobs legit since the renaissance (TM).

Danaë Christopher Williams
Anyway, Danaë got pregnant from her golden shower (may that be a lesson to us all) and little Perseus was the upshot.  King Acrisius was horrified that his bad parental decision hadn't worked and so rather than just killing the baby (because that would have been bad) (unlike bricking up your only child in a windowless tower), he decided to lock Danaë and Perseus up in a chest and fling it in the sea.  Thanks Acrisius, you make the rest of us parents look good.  I might have allowed my daughter's morning to consist of eating Dairy Milk and watching YouTube but at least I haven't shoved her in a box and lobbed her in the English Channel.

Danaë (only black and white available, sadly) John William Waterhouse
Why Acrisius didn't see it coming that the god who had managed to get into an impenetrable tower, if you excuse the expression, would be able to save his son from a floating box, I'm not sure.  Working in conjunction with Poseidon, the chest with mother and baby floated gently and pleasantly off to Seriphos where Danaë and Perseus were safe and happy and Perseus grew up and was able to do stuff like this..

The Doom Fulfilled (1888) Edward Burne-Jones
Images of Danaë are universally wonderful because of their simplicity.  The appeal to the Victorian artist is obvious as there is a beautiful naked girl and lots of gold.  What more do you want?  It is also an image of triumph through adversity, that no matter what bad thing happens to you there is a silver, or in this case gold, lining.  It is a lesson of hope for people who find themselves on the crappy end of events that are beyond their control and not of their making.  Gorgeousness will find a way and even in the darkness of a windowless tower someone is watching over you and will bring a little bit of wonderful into your life when you least expect it.

In conclusion, many years later Perseus was competing in athletic games in Larissa when he accidentally hit a spectator with a discus and killed him.  Guess who the spectator was...


  1. So this explains the background to that line in one of my favourite poems, Now sleeps the crimson petal: "Now lies the earth all Danae to the stars, and all thy heart lies open unto me‎". Thank you!


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