I have always been fascinated by the myth of ‘Leda and the Swan’ from Ovid’s metamorphosis. I performed my version of this ancient tale at a storytelling event in London as part of Fresh Blood and Guts project. A particular myth could have a meaningful message for us and our purpose.
The image of the swan is important to me because I associate it with memories and it’s a symbolic image in my own personal mythology. My father once showed me a building in my native town of Bologna in Italy called ‘Il Cigno Bianco’ (the White Swan) and told me that he first met my mother there.
It was a place where young people of his generation went to ballroom dances and my grandad, il Nonno Nino who had his own band, used to play the violin there.
Soon after their meeting , after dancing the waltz, my parents eloped together and got married.
The swan is beautiful, elegant and graceful, and it is said that the swan is a symbol of self love. In mythology Gods take the shape of swans and other animals often to lure women and nymphs.
In Ovid’s Metamorphosis Spartan queen Leda is seduced by Zeus under the guise of a swan. Her story is complex an full of many different facets and meanings.
Renaissance artists such as Leonardo and Michelangelo have been inspired by the myth. Leonardo da Vinci drawing depicts Leda in a setting where all creatures (human and animals) live in harmony but at the same time she appears indifferent to the knowledge of good and evil. Embracing the swan while twins are hatching at her feet. (Marina Warner-Hatching-fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds)
In Modern art there is a version by Cy Twombly in the Museum of modern art in New York mixing eroticism and violence.
Avant Garde filmmaker Kurt Kren also made a film-performance version of the myth. And of course in poetry in a well known poem by William Butler Yeats combining psychological realism with a mystic vision and describing the swan’s rape of Leda.
The story of Leda breaks all the rules, a symbol of female carnality that goes against the conditioning of women and the restraint of sexuality.
In my practice I often explore female sexuality and some of its manifestations. Below is a one of my drawings made in preparation for the performance piece.
drawing 29 X 19 cm