A favored subject chosen by many artists during the Early Southern Renaissance was the promiscuous Zeus/Jupiter, King of the Gods. Often portrayed in classical art as a mighty bearded man throwing lightning bolts upon the earth. His wife (and older sister) was called Hera, the Goddess of Woman and Marriage. Ironically, her husband was not a loyal partner and was often tempted by the beautiful maidens that walked the Earth.
On the occasions when he gave in to temptation, he would appear to maidens in many different forms as we saw in Correggio's Loves of Jupiter. He has been said to appear as a fog, a shower of gold, and of course a swan.
Despite artists having a cultural precedent to show these erotic scenes in art, by no means was it always accepted.
One of the earliest paintings of Leda and the Swan from the Southern Renaissance was by by Leonardo da Vinci. He began doing studies for Leda and the Swan in 1504 (shown left), though never committed those sketches to paint. However, in 1508 he did complete a painting showing Leda embracing a swan with her children at her feet. Unfortunately, this painting is believed to be destroyed, though has survived history by the many copies that were made such as the one shown in the bottom left by Cesare Sesto.
Later, other artists began using Leda and the Swan in their paintings like Michelangelo's tempera painting in 1529 which is also believed to be destroyed though a copy is shown top right.
Correggio included Leda and the Swan in his "Loves of Jupiter" series (shown top left) in 1532. Thankfully, this painting has survived and is currently on display at the Gemaeldegalerie in Berlin.
The Southern Renaissance and its erotic art were strongly influenced by Greek and Roman mythology in contrast to the Northern Renaissance which mostly held on to Christian depictions.
Erotic Artists of the Southern Renaissance