Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Leda and the Swan by Igor Zeinalov

We feature Leda and the Swan as our title illustration, of course, and over the next few months we will be adding some more of the many pictures and sculpture inspired over the centuries by this somewhat bizarre Ancient Greek myth.

The legend, which was popularised by Ovid (43BC-17AD) and Fulgentius (late 5th Century-early 6th Century), exists in several different versions.  The most popular has Leda as the daughter of King Thestius of Aetolia.  She married King Tyndareus of Sparta.  Much admired by Zeus the naked Leda was drying in the sun after bathing in the river Eurotas, the main river in Sparta.

The River Eurotas today

Zeus took the form of a swan pretending to flee an eagle and Leda happily let him take refuge in her lap.  The resulting copulation is voluntary in some versions of the legend and rape in others.  It is also said that Leda then had sex with her husband that night; the result of all this being two eggs and four children: the twins Castor and Pollux and Helen of Sparta (later to be Helen of Troy) and Clytemnestra.  Who is mortal and who is part divine also varies in different versions of the story.  Some versions have Zeus impregnating Nemesis the spirit of divine retribution.  In the latter version Nemesis turns into a goose to avoid the rapacious god but he turns into a swan to mate with her.  Nemesis lays an egg which is found by a shepherd in the marshes who gives it to Leda who looks after it until it hatches thus making Helen only Leda's adoptive daughter.  All legends agree that Helen is the daughter of Zeus however. 

This legend has led to some of the most explicit and erotic art of the classical period.  This contemporary  piece by Russian artist Igor Zeinalov (b 1959) takes the unusual route of having Leda taken doggie (swanie?) style.  All other copulatory versions of the legend we have seen have her being taken from the front, as would be more logical with a swan landing on your lap! It's a striking piece, however, and a good addition to the canon, we think.

Igor Zeinalov

Igor Zeinalov was born in Penza, Russia which is about 400 miles south-east of Moscow.  He attended art school in Penza, graduating in 1978. The same year he was called up for national service in the army and worked at producing graphics with a military theme for the state print factory.  He produced many illustrations of military subjects and some of his work is on display in the Military Museum in Brussels, which Triple P has visited several times.  Since the mid nineties he has been working on small sculptures such as this bronze.


  1. I remember learning about this myth in college. It sparked a debate between me and a friend over whether the professor teaching it was perverted for giving focus to it--but I always liked the story. ;)

  2. Sorry, but this one is truly tacky!

  3. I love this piece. Sexy as hell. There's a doggie-style painting of the myth (also pretty hot): Look for the name Fred Einaudi.