Skip to Main Content

Press Release

Release Date: February 20, 2013

National Gallery of Art Explores Ovid's Myths through Art in Programs Coinciding with Arena Stage Production of Metamorphoses


Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Italian, 1696–1770
Apollo Pursuing Daphne, c. 1755/1760
oil on canvas
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Samuel H. Kress Collection

Washington, DC—In celebration of selected works of art in its collection that depict myths and in conjunction with Mary Zimmerman's reinterpretation of Ovid's Metamorphoses, now at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, the National Gallery of Art is presenting a series of lectures and gallery talks. The Gallery's collection is rich in narratives from this always-popular classic by the great Latin poet, whose story, told in a loose mythicohistorical framework, extends from the creation of the world to the deification of Julius Caesar.

"We are presenting programs highlighting mythology in our collection in conjunction with Arena Stage's production of Metamorphoses so that audiences in Washington, DC, can see the stories depicted not only in the play but also in great works of art," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. "The masterpieces shown in our galleries bring historical context to the myths explored in Mary Zimmerman's play, and the Gallery's library houses many fine illustrated copies of Ovid's Metamorphoses, a number of which will be on display in the West Building this summer."

Ovid's Myths in the Collection

The Gallery has a remarkable array of works derived from classical literature, from Homer to Virgil, from Aesop to Ovid. The collection is particularly rich in imagery from Ovid's Metamorphoses—the stirring stories of Midas, Orpheus and Eurydice, Narcissus, Pomona, Phaeton, Philemon and Baucis, and Cupid and Psyche are found in paintings, sculptures, ceramics, prints, and drawings. Currently on view in the West Building galleries are major canvases by Titian (Venus and Adonis, c. 1560), Sir Peter Paul Rubens (The Fall of Phaeton, c. 1604/1605), Rembrandt van Rijn (Philemon and Baucis, c. 1658), and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (Apollo Pursuing Daphne, c. 1755/1760). Peter Vischer the Younger's Orpheus and Eurydice (c. 1515) is one of many sculptures that interpret Ovid's stories.

Metamorphoses at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater

Following its acclaimed 16-week run at Chicago's Lookingglass Theatre Company this fall, Metamorphoses brings the mythical tales of Ovid to life at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater from February 8 through March 17, 2013, 10 years after the Broadway premiere. Written and directed by the Tony Award-winner Mary Zimmerman, Metamorphoses is based on David Slavitt's translation. Its performance at Arena Stage marks the first time that Zimmerman has directed the production since its Broadway run. It is also the first time Zimmerman is staging Metamorphoses in the round.

Related Programs

All programs are free and open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis unless otherwise noted.


Miraculous Transformations: Images from Ovid's Metamorphoses
Eric Denker, lecturer
March 3 at noon and March 6 at 3:30 p.m. (West Building Lecture Hall)

Gallery Talks
West Building Main Floor, Rotunda
Twenty-minute public tours focusing on two works of art at the Gallery illustrating myths from Ovid's Metamorphoses will be offered in March. All talks will begin in the West Building Rotunda. For more information, please consult the bimonthly calendar of events or the gallery talks section of the website at

Apollo and Daphne by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
Eric Denker, senior lecturer, March 4, 7, 8 at 11:00 a.m.

The Fall of Phaeton by Sir Peter Paul Rubens
Faya Causey, head of academic programs, March 11, 13, 14 at 11:00 a.m.

Panel Discussion
Sunday, March 3, at 3:30 p.m.
Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater
Following the matinee (2:00 p.m.), Faya Causey, head of academic programs; Eric Denker, senior lecturer; and Yuri Long, library circulation technician, all National Gallery of Art, will join Amrita Ramanan, literary manager, Arena Stage, in a panel discussion. These experts will explore how Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses relates to Ovid's original Latin verse and how the same myths are represented in the Gallery's collections of art and rare books.

Gallery Shops

In celebration of Arena Stage's production and the Gallery's collection, the Shops are offering a selection of related publications exploring art and mythology for all ages. These include The Whole Truth...and Other Myths: Retelling Ancient Tales, a collection of Greek and Roman myths as told by master storyteller Helen Hoover through some of the great masterpieces in the Gallery's collection; The Greek Myths by Robert Graves; Gods and Heroes in Art by Lucia Impelluso; and Symbols and Allegories in Art (A Guide to Imagery) by Matilde Battistini. Young readers may pick up Fandex Family Field Guides: Mythology by Kathryn and Ross Petras and D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths.


This summer, the Gallery presents From the Library: Metamorphoses in Graphics from August 10, 2013, through February 9, 2014, on the West Building's Ground Floor. By the 16th century, Ovid's Metamorphoses had become the most important single source for mythological lore of the ancient world, and it was read in many different languages, from the original Latin to vernacular translations in German, Italian, French, English, and Dutch, to name but a few. In addition, it was edited, adapted, reworked and rewritten in various styles according to changing tastes and needs. From scholarly versions with dense Latin text and apparatus such as commentaries and notes, to picture books with abbreviated text in rhymes and large illustrations, from tiny pocket-sized books to lavishly bound multivolume tomes, there was an edition of the Metamorphoses to suit everyone.

This exhibition explores some aspects of the continuing prominence that Ovid's Metamorphoses enjoyed from the early 16th to the early 20th centuries through the extensive holdings of early printed editions in the library's rare book collection. This installation explores how the text was used, the kinds of books that were produced and who read them, and the various types of images that accompanied the text in this diverse range of editions. Together, these books illustrate the history of the Metamorphoses and its enduring popularity with readers, scholars, artists, and poets.

Related Podcast
Amber and the Ancient World
Faya Causey, head of academic programs, National Gallery of Art

Amber, a tree resin that has metamorphosed over millions of years into a hard, transparent polymer, has captivated mankind since the Paleolithic era. It has been treasured in both its raw and carved state. In this lecture, recorded on May 13, 2012, at the National Gallery of Art, Faya Causey presents the myths and legends woven around amber and explored in her new book Amber and the Ancient World. Causey explains its employment in magic and medicine, its transport and carving, and its incorporation into jewelry, amulets, and other objects of prestige. The book showcases remarkable amber carvings in the J. Paul Getty Museum and masterpieces from other collections. Causey also discusses the launch of the accompanying online catalogue, Ancient Carved Amber in the J. Paul Getty Museum—a first-of-its-kind publication.

General Information

For additional press information please call or send inquiries to:
Department of Communications
National Gallery of Art
2000 South Club Drive
Landover, MD 20785
phone: (202) 842-6353
e-mail: [email protected]
Anabeth Guthrie
Chief of Communications
(202) 842-6804
[email protected]

The Gallery also offers a broad range of newsletters for various interests. Follow this link to view the complete list.