Among recent acquisitions from the Cleveland Museum of Art is a drawing by Jacob de Wit (1695-1754). The highly finished drawing, Jupiter (in the guise of Diana) and Callisto uses a combination of pen and ink, gouache, and watercolor to tell this well-known story from Ovid’s Metamorphosis. Visiting Arcadia, Jupiter lusts after one of Diana’s followers, Callisto, and seduces her in the guise of Diana. De Wit portrayed the seduction scene: Jupiter’s eagle, lurking behind Diana’s quiver of arrows, signifies his presence. Meanwhile, Diana and her hunters pursue a stag in the background. The putti, who attempt to shield – or perhaps reveal – the affair with a red textile, create a cascading rhythm to the left of the figural group, joined by three curious, elegant hunting dogs.
The large, finished drawing is related to two paintings originally meant for the walls of a merchant’s house in Amsterdam. De Wit was among the most sought-after painters in eighteenth-century Amsterdam, where he made his living producing large paintings on commission, intended to be set into the walls and ceilings of the city’s stately canal homes. Several years after he made the paintings, another Amsterdam merchant, Jonas Witsen, commissioned him to make this and another drawing based on the original schemes. As decorative tastes changed, many of De Wit’s large residential paintings were destroyed, and therefore his drawings play an important role in documenting De Wit’s large-scale commissions as well as his thriving business as an independent draftsman.