In this paper, I examine the origins of the 1516 painting The Metamorphosis of Hermaphroditus and the Nymph Salmacis by the artist Jan Gossaert. Because there are no known representations of the myth in post-classical European art before Gossaert’s version, the existence of the painting provokes questions about its patronage, background, and possible implications. Derived from the myth of Salmacis and Hermaphroditus in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the focus of the work is on the physical struggle between a male and female figure. The artist casts these individuals into the roles of victim and aggressor, with the female as the dominant character. This depiction reflects common attitudes at the time toward women and their scorned position in a male-dominated society. I suggest that the subject of Gossaert’s painting is related to themes found in the popular art of Northern Europe, which focused on the reversal of traditional gender-roles and often acted as warnings to men about women with too much freedom and power. Proposing that The Metamorphosis could be viewed as a satirical representation of women having political power, I argue that there is more to the painting than what appears on the surface.
"The Virago, Hermaphrodite, and Jan Gossaert: A Metamorphosis in Netherlandish Art,"
Vol. 5, Article 13.
Available at: http://uknowledge.uky.edu/kaleidoscope/vol5/iss1/13