Ceres Mocked By Stellio

Salomon Konick - 1650

Copyright of Ackland Art Museum - Click on the painting for more information.

          A lot can be learned from a piece of art, whether it be a painting or a sculpture. When an artist creates a piece, they often intend to convey certain meanings or stories through their designs. It is easy to look at a piece of art and feel certain ways, but many times a viewer must study the art work  to pick out the many details that go into works of art, to discover the artist’s meaning. The Ackland Art Museum, located on the campus of the University of North Carolina, houses a substantial amount of art work. The museum is open to the public and is a great place to go and look at many different pieces of art from a variety of artists, throughout time. In particular, the museum houses the painting Ceres Mocked by Stellio, painted by Salomon Koninck in 1650. The painting has both narrative and humane themes. It tells a story, but at the same time represents human qualities of love, desire and sadness.

            In the painting a young woman is standing outside and appears to be speaking to an elderly woman, who is standing in the doorway to her house. The scene takes place at night, which is obvious because both women are holding candles, and the painting is very dark. The younger woman is standing on the right side of the elderly woman. On the left side of the elderly woman stands a young boy who is pointing and snickering at the younger woman. The title of the painting gives way to the names of the young woman and young boy. Ceres, who is being mocked, is apparently the young woman. Therefore the young boy is Stellio. Ceres’ facial expression shows a sense of sadness and worry as she leans towards the elderly woman. She looks like she has lost something important to her or is in search of something. The elderly woman’s face shows a sense of concern, as if she wishes she could help Ceres but does not have the answers.

            As previously stated, the painting depicts a scene at night, most likely in the evening considering the young boy is still outside, and young children typically are not allowed to run around at night. The only source of light in the scene is the candles, held by Ceres and the elderly woman, which are of similar size. The elderly woman has her hand cupped around her candle, most likely in order to fully see Ceres’ face, and is only dimly illuminated by the flame. On the other hand, Ceres is holding her candle out in front of her chest and the flame illuminates Ceres to the point that she appears to be glowing. This could suggest that she is holy or godly. Stellio is standing in the shadows on the left side of the painting and the candles only dimly lightt him enough to tell what he is doing, and to see his facial expression.

            Considering Ceres is illuminated much more than Stellio, the viewer’s eyes are immediately brought to her and the candle that she is holding. The candle represents one of the lines the artist, Koninck, specifically uses in the painting to help the viewer read the picture. Some of the use of lines makes up the outline and facial features of the characters, and wrinkles in their clothing. This adds to the life-like qualities of the characters. The candle Ceres is holding in her left handle is tilted enough to where it is directly pointing at the elderly woman’s face, which is where the viewer’s eyes will wander next. Here the viewer can see that the elderly woman is holding her candle straight up and down, which can be followed straight to Stellio’s outstretched hand, pointing at Ceres. The lines in the painting compose a circular pattern, which begins in the middle, and sweeps in a counter clockwise motion.

            The artist also uses two different textures in the painting to separate the characters from the background of the painting. The clothes of the characters and their faces are very smooth, and easily blend together. Ceres’ clothing is especially smooth in regard to the other figures. She is wearing a long, white and gold silk robe. This could possibly indicate her wealth or power. To separate these figures from the background, the artist switches the texture. The elderly woman’s house in the background has a much rougher texture and is apparently wooden. This blend of texture really brings the characters out, allowing the viewer to concentrate mainly on them and not the background of the painting.

            The flame on Ceres’ candle seems to be in the dead center of the painting. Even though she is holding the candle out in front of her, the balance of the painting is heavier on the left side. This is mainly because two characters are on the opposite side of her candle, and the majority of the darkness of the painting is behind Ceres. This large section of darkness intensifies the feeling of night and darkness associated with the painting. Although the balance appears to be heavier on the left, the artist uses the intense illumination in the middle to balance the painting more to the center because it draws the viewer’s eye back.

            Although it is easy to look the painting of Ceres being mocked by Stellio, questions still come up that are hard to answer just by looking at the painting. Such as who is Ceres, and if she is in search of something, what is it? Why is the young boy snickering at her? Some people are probably able to look at the title and know what the artist is referring to, but some simple research can provide a great deal of answers to common questions.

            Ceres is from Roman mythology and she is the goddess of agriculture (Ceres). Ceres is said to have been personified and celebrated by women in secret rituals and festivals. Ceres was worshiped mainly by the plebian class, which were the people who dominated the corn trade (Demeter). The painting by Koninck represents a scene from part 3 of Metamorphoses Tales, by Ovid.  In the story, Ceres has lost her daughter and is wandering the world looking for her. Finding herself tired and worn out from her search, without anything to drink, when she comes across a small hut and knocks on the door. An elderly woman opens the door and Ceres asks the woman if she has any water that she can spare. Instead of giving her water, the woman gives Ceres a sweet drink made with malted barley. While she was thirstily drinking, a young boy came out taunting her and calling her greedy. Offended by his gestures, Ceres throws the remaining drink on the boy, which turns him into a tiny lizard. In the story the child’s name is Stellio (Dictionary.com). The name is fitting of the child because it stems from the Latin word Stellion, which is an olive green lizard, decorated with small black spots (Kinnes). With knowledge of Ovid’s tales, a viewer could instantly see what Koninck’s painting is showing. The depressed and tiresome look on Ceres’ face in the painting is because she has lost her child and has been searching the world for her, with no avail. The Roman poet wrote lived between 43 B.C. and 18 A.D. (The Roman). His series of mythological tales were a huge form of entertainment from people and he is an inspiration to many forms of art. It has been said "the rich mythology of Greece furnished Ovid, as it may still furnish the poet, the painter, and the sculptor, with materials for his art.” It has also been said that his tales are read with pleasure by youth, and are re-read in more advanced age with still greater delight” and “The poet ventured to predict that his poem would survive him, and be read wherever the Roman name was known (Ovid)."

          A great deal of knowledge can be gained through viewing art. It is know to be inspirational and entertaining, often because it tells a story. A simple painting can house many complex symbols and meanings, and a lot can be learned. Koninck’s Ceres Mocked by Stellio is an example of part of a story told through a picture. The painting is clearly representative of the Metamorphoses Tales
that were written by the poet Ovid, whose work is known to be represented by artists from all over. The painting also is representative of different human qualities. Ceres is searching for her beloved daughter and the painting shows Ceres’ sadness and longing to find her. Since Ovid lived over 1600 years prior to Koninck’s painting, Konick was most likely as interested in expression human nature as he was telling a story that was not well known by many people. His painting serves two purposes and is a wonderful work of art. 


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