The painting shows how Jupiter, disguised as a dark cloud, seduces Io, daughter of the King of Argos, a story from the Metamorphoses of Ovid. We see how Jupiter embraces the nymph, his face just barely materializing in the cloud above her, his smoky hand reaching under her left arm and touching her back. Notable is the contrast between Jupiter's evanescent form and the realistic, fleshy body of Io, who seems to recline in rapture.
- The painter, Antonio Allegri da Correggio (1489 – 1534), was an Italian Renaissance artist who spent most of his life in Parma. He was an eclectic painter without apprenticed successors, but his brilliant illusionist experiments and grand domed ceilings with illusionary heavens (such as The flight of the Madonna in the vault of the cupola of the Cathedral of Parma) are now considered as revolutionary, prefiguring the Mannerist and Baroque styles.
- Besides his many religious commissions, Correggio is known for his mythological series, four paintings about the loves of Jupiter commissioned by Federico II Gonzaga of Mantua: Danaë, Ganymede abducted by the Eagle, Leda with the Swan and the present Jupiter and Io - all dating from 1531–32 and based on the hugely influential Metamorphoses of Ovid (written in 8 CE). The paintings were probably meant to decorate the private Ovid Room in the Palazzo Te of Federico II Gonzaga (obviously, these paintings were not meant for stray eyes). However, the paintings were donated to the visiting Emperor Charles V and thus left Italy for Madrid within years of their completion. Now they are scattered over three European museums: Danaë in Rome's Borghese Gallery, Leda with the Swan in the Staatliche Museen of Berlin and the other two in the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna.
- Jupiter, the king of the gods and deity of the sky and of thunder, is known in Greek/Roman mythology for his frequent marital infidelities. As his wife Juno was very jealous, he was forced to assume various ingenious shapes to escape her sharp eye. In these four paintings, we see him approach the object of his love transformed into a swan, an eagle, golden rain and a dark, dense cloud.
- The story of Jupiter and Io is as follows. On a certain day, Jupiter happened to notice Io, who was an attractive young maiden, and started lusting after her. Io rejected Jupiter's whispered nighttime advances until the oracles caused her own father to drive her out into the fields of Lerna. There, Zeus approached her in the shape of a gaseous cloud, at the same time covering her in dark mists, to hide her from the eyes of Juno - the very scene of our painting. The story continues that Juno saw through Jupiter's ruse, even though he changed Io into a beautiful white heifer. Juno demanded the heifer as a present, and Jupiter could not refuse her without arousing suspicion. As a punishment, Juno caused Io to restlessly wander the earth in her bovine shape. Finally, Io managed to escape to Egypt, where she was restored to human form by Jupiter and gave birth to his son and daughter - and married an Egyptian king. All's well that ends well.
- Correggio has managed to convey the love scene of Jupiter and Io with full discretion and much subtlety, but without obfuscating its meaning. While Jupiter is just a caressing cloud, almost invisible, Io with her arms spread and head leaning back, evinces rapturous acceptance. Her left arm even seems to pull Jupiter's smoky hand towards her and her right foot, sticking up, betrays her true feelings. Io's lavish body prefigures the nudes of Rubens, and is in pleasant contrast to the beauty ideal of our own dreary age.
- It is difficult to see, but in the lower right a stag is painted, drinking from a brook, providing a Christian explanation ("As the deer pants after the water brook, so my soul thirsts for Thee"), a rather cheap excuse loosely tagged on to this mythological painting.
- Here is one of the other Jupiter paintings by Correggio, Leda with the Swan, which is just as suggestive as Jupiter and Io. Interestingly, it was attacked with a knife in the 18th c. by a former French aristocratic owner during what has been described as a crisis of conscience!
[Written with some factual input from Wikipedia]