The Origin of the Milky Way

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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The god Jupiter wished to immortalise his infant son Hercules, whose mother was the mortal Alcmene, so he held him to the breast of his sleeping wife, the goddess Juno, to drink her milk. However, Juno woke. The milk which spurted upwards formed the Milky Way, while that which fell downwards gave rise to lilies.

Tintoretto’s painting has been cut down by about a third and what we see now is only the upper part of the original. In the missing lower part, known from a seventeenth-century copy, Ops, the embodiment of Earth and mother of Juno and Jupiter, reclines on a bank beside white flowers. The scene relates to a medal commemorating Tintoretto’s patron, the physician Tommaso Rangone. It is likely that the painting is also connected to Rangone; stars and flowers were both central to his learning.

The National Gallery, London



The Origin of the Milky Way


about 1575


Oil on canvas


H 149.4 x W 168 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Bought, 1890

Work type



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