Myths from classical antiquity with Greek and Roman (demi-)gods in the leading role have been an important source for painters since the Renaissance. The deities’ semi-nude bodies lent themselves well to experiments with the human figure, as Bartholomeus Spranger demonstrated with his Venus and Adonis from around 1586. Most of the paintings with mythological subjects date from the 17th century and represent scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which hold up a mirror to the beholder. Pieter Lastman, for instance, painted the story of Orestes and Pylades; Rubens was inspired by Cimon and Pero; and Ferdinand Bol interpreted the story of Venus and Adonis. The museum has also collected many of Jacob de Wit’s painted (designs for) ceiling pieces and wall hangings with mythological subjects.
Alongside ancient deities, personifications of abstract concepts, such as the virtues and the vices, also emerged. They figure in allegories – with symbolically charged scenes – for example, Gerard Lairesse’s magnificent grisaille allegories of Riches, Art, and The Sciences (c. 1780), among others.