Diana and Callisto

Sketch for "Diana and Callisto", Pastel on Paper, Charlie Kirkham 2015.
Sketch for “Diana and Callisto”, Pastel on Paper, Charlie Kirkham 2015.

I love mythology and story telling. Lately, having been spending a lot of time working from History Paintings in the National Gallery, I have tried to approach my own work in a new way.

The idea behind this painting comes from Ovid’s Metamorphosis. It’s quite a complicated story so I have reproduced it below:

Often, as Jupiter came and went, he would stop short at the sight of Callisto, a girl from Nonacris, feeling the fire take in the very marrow of his bones… she was one of Diana’s companions…Jupiter, seeing her there weary and unprotected, said ‘Here, surely, my wife will not see my cunning, or if she does find out, it is, oh it is, worth a quarrel! Quickly he took on the face and dress of Diana…and gave her kisses unrestrainedly, and not those that virgins give…she fought him, but how could a girl win, and who is more powerful than Jove? Victorious, Jupiter made for the furthest reaches of the sky…Nine crescent moons had since grown full when the goddess [Diana] … found a cool grove…she said ‘Any witness is far away, let’s bathe our bodies naked in the flowing water.’ The Arcadian girl blushed: all of them took off their clothes: one of them tried to delay: hesitantly the tunic was removed and there her shame was revealed with her naked body. Terrified she tried to conceal her swollen belly…
Juno…had held back her severe punishment until the proper time… The girl had given birth to a boy, Arcas…[Juno]…clutched [Callisto] her in front by the hair… Callisto stretched out her arms for mercy: those arms began to bristle with coarse black hairs: her hands arched over and changed into curved claws to serve as feet: and her face, that Jupiter had once praised, was disfigured by gaping jaws:..An angry, threatening growl, harsh and terrifying, came from her throat…And now Arcas, grandson of Lycaon, had reached his fifteenth year ignorant of his parentage. While he was hunting wild animals…he came across his mother…when she quickly came nearer he was about to pierce her chest with his lethal spear.
All-powerful Jupiter restrained him and…set them in the heavens and made them similar constellations, the Great and Little Bear.

I wanted the painting to focus on the moment of revelation, when Diana realises that Callisto is pregnant.

The final image was created using just the five colours of this limited palette:

  • Titanium White
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Indian Red
  • Prussian Blue
  • Burnt Umber

The ground was an acrylic mix of Indian Red (Red Oxide) and Zinc White to give a mid tone pink.

"Diana and Callisto", oil on canvas, 25x36", Charlie Kirkham 2015.
“Diana and Callisto”, oil on canvas, 25×36″, Charlie Kirkham 2015.

The images I chose to include were down to personal preference. I looked at Titian and Corbert for ideas and liked the use of animals and wheels. Painting animals is always good fun and so I included some of my favourites: a rottweiler dog, baby tiger, cheetah, dragon, kid goat and cobra. Composition wise, I did alter the painting from the drawing. I wanted the snake to feel like he was photo bombing the scene. The trees are pomegranate, lemon and apple. As it’s impossible to get a bright red using Indian Red it was fun to use the green mixes to push forward the colours.