Clytie: The Spurned Nymph

Earlier today I walked past a flower and plant stall in Reading and there were so many beautiful plants, including some lovely sunflowers. Although I didn’t buy any sunflowers (I came away with begonias and cornflowers), seeing these sunny flowers reminded me of Clytie.

I don’t know about you, but I love mythology and have done since I was a little child. Out of all of the stories, the one that resonated with me was the story of Clytie, a nymph who fell in love with Apollo, the Sun God, but he did not return her love. There are various interpretations, but basically it’s your classic tale of unrequited love. As a teenage girl stuck in the “friend, not the girlfriend” phase, I could empathise. Clytie gazed at Apollo as he drove his chariot across the sky, and she did this for so long that she became a sunflower – forever following her love. It’s a potent image. The tale of the spurned nymph has been a source of inspiration for many an artist over the centuries, most famously perhaps in this work by Frederic Leighton in the late nineteenth century.

The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Culture Service, Leighton House Museum, via BBC Your Paintings.

I loved this painting so much, I printed out a copy of it once and kept it on my desk. Now, when I was growing up in a small town in Florida slightly before the Internet made everything so accessible, I somehow was only able to get to learn about the art of the 19th-century (I focused on the Pre-Raphaelites, which was great). It was only in college that I turned my attentions to the Baroque – and there have I remained. In the 17th century, artists were just as interested in this sad tale, including the Genovese Baroque sculptor Filippo Paradi (1630-1702). He created one sculpture of Clytie that I know of, and you can see the sunflowers. It’s quite a lovely work, I think you’ll agree.

Clytie 1680s Marble, under life-size Galleria di Palazzo Reale, Genoa, Via the Web Gallery of Art.

In terms of paintings, I am only aware of there being one from the 17th-century, and that was painted in 1688 by Charles de la Fosse and entitled Clytie Transformed into a Sunflower:

Oil on canvas, 131 x 159 cm Grand Trianon, Versailles, via the Web Gallery of Art.

Oil on canvas, 131 x 159 cm
Grand Trianon, Versailles, via the Web Gallery of Art.


Do you have any favourite myths or mythological-themed artwork? Let me know below! 🙂



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