Love, Triumph, Immortality: The Mythic and Pictorial Tradition of the Corona Borealis
The Corona Borealis or Northern Crown is a bright constellation that shines conspicuously in the early summer sky. Among the oldest recognized constellations visible in the northern hemisphere, its distinctive configuration is easily discernable. Once a group of nine stars, it was the only stellar ring visible to early Greek astronomers who named it Στεϕανοσ, the Wreath. It was later distinguished as πρωτοσ and Βορεοσ (first and northern), and ascribed a positive astrological influence.
The constellation was associated with the myth of Bacchus and Ariadne as early as the 3rd Century BC. In this myth, the Crown was most often identified as Ariadne's wedding crown which Bacchus hurled into the sky at her death as a memorial of his undying love for her. Although there are variations in the telling of the myth in ancient texts, the constellation was firmly identified with the triumph of Ariadne, and her transformation into a goddess. The pictorial tradition was adapted in images of the Virgin Mary with a starry crown, as well as those representing her coronation by Christ.
This paper will first discuss the variations in the pictorial tradition of the Corona Borealis. Then, using a selected group of Renaissance and Baroque paintings, demonstrate how the meaning of the myth was employed to express themes of love, triumph and immortality.
Born and raised in New York City, Dr. Rousseau completed a B.A. in Art History at Hunter College (C.U.N.Y.), and her M.A. and Ph.D. at Columbia University in New York. She is Professor of Art History at Montgomery College (Maryland). An internationally published scholar of Italian Renaissance art, her work has focused largely on topics associated with astrological iconography in that period. Dr. Rousseau has also published widely in modern and contemporary art and is a recognized critic and curator of art exhibits in the Washington DC region. In 2010 she was voted membership in the International Association of Art Critics (AICA) for her writing on art.