Ride on, but What Does it Mean?


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Who is this woman, and what’s going on here? Actually, there are four women framing the court, and every one of them is riding some guy: innocent fun, Versailles style! They are allegories, of course, or are they? It all depends on how, or rather how far we look for the answer, for many baroque images have a Renaissance provenance; whereas Renaissance was usually inspired by antiquity, all be it not without a certain medieval twist. The same here, the famous Renaissance allegory had a beauty riding a philosopher; but a medieval French troubadour, Henry d’Andeli, claimed that Phyllis, the mistress of Alexander the Great, got to ride Aristotle after she seduced him; presumably Alexander’s mentor was critical of the king’s passion for the girl; so, she made her point; but then a more ancient source, Aristippe — a classical author, tells us that when Aristotle married Hermias, so much he loved her that he would make sacrifices to his wife like to a living goddess.

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