In mythology, Danae was the daughter of Acrisius, King of Argos. Disappointed that he had no son, Acrisius visited the Oracle to seek advice. Unhappily, the Oracle told Acrisius that he would have no son, but a grandson by whom Acrisius would then be killed.
Anxious to avoid this fate, Acrisius determined that his daughter would remain unwed and untouched, and locked her in a tower. However, the god Jove (or Zeus, King of the Gods) learnt of Danae’s situation and of her attractiveness and determined to conquer her. She was visited by Jove in the form of a shower of gold.
The result of this brief union was a son Perseus. Horrified by what had happened, but unwilling to provoke the wrath of the Gods by killing his grandson, Acrisius locked Danae and the infant Perseus in a chest and put them in the sea. The chest drifted to an is.abd where they were found and rescued by a local fisherman.
When he grew to adulthood Perseus became a great hero, killing Medusa to prevent Danae’s unwilling marriage to another King. One year he decided to attend the athletic games at Larissa, unaware that Acrisius was also in attendance. Throwing the discus, Perseus slipped. The discus flew out of control, hit Acrisius and killed him instantly. Thus was the Oracle fulfilled.
Jove, it should be said, had form as a rapist. In Ovid’s Metamorphosis, he describes how Jove seduced Europa in the form of a bull, swimming out to sea with Europa on his back. Describing the scene, Ovid comments:
Asterie also was shown, in the grip of a struggling eagle;
Leda, meekly reclining under the wings of a swan.
And there was Jove once again, but now in the form of a satyr,
Taking the lovely Antiope, sowing the seeds of her twins.
You could see how he caught Alcemena disguised as her husband Amphitryon,
Then how he stole fair Danae’s love in a shower of gold;
How he cheated Aegina as fire; Mnemosyne, dressed as a shepherd;
Prospering, Ceres’ child and his own, as a speckled serpent.
The list goes on and on. All these subjects were popular subjects for Renaissance painting at a time when mythology, and Ovid in particular, came back into fashion and where these subjects could be used as justification for the introduction of nudity into painting and sculpture.