The Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II, moved the Habsburg court from Vienna to Prague in 1583. Thanks to his patronage, the Bohemian capital attracted many of the greatest talents of their time: the astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler; the botanist Charles de l’Ecluse; the poet Elizabeth Jane Weston; and a host of artists. Prague Castle became a centre of intellectual, scientific and aesthetic inquiry, where a lion and a tiger roamed, botanical gardens blossomed and a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ was assembled, devoted to the ‘three kingdoms of nature and the works of man’.
The emperor also had a penchant for erotic art, which scandalised the Catholic Church, to whom the Habsburgs were traditionally, though in this case nominally, loyal. It is no surprise, therefore, that he commissioned one of the masters of ‘Rudolfian Mannerism’ – Bartholomeus Spranger – to tackle one of the great erotic tales of the Classical world, told by Ovid in Book IV of his Metamorphoses.
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