This large painting is one of a series of nine pictures (eight of similar size and a smaller one depicting Hercules and Dejanira ) by Sebastiano, which are still housed in their original location. Recently, critics have agreed that Pietro Gabrielli, the owner of Palazzo Taverna, commissioned these works from the Belluno painter in 1717, when he married a noblewoman, Maria Teresa di Valvasone, in Venice. Most of the paintings — with the exception of Apollo and Pan before King Midas , which represents ineptitude punished, and the legend of Hercules and Dejanira , which proves that mere intellect is no defence against feminine seduction, which leads to death — are mythological love scenes. This is a detail that perfectly fits the occasion for their commissioning.
The imposing interpretation of The Rape of Europa — in which we see the tale told by Ovid in his Metamorphoses (the nymph abducted by Zeus, who appears in the form of a bull) comes from a careful study by Sebastiano of Paolo Veronese’s work, particularly the painting of a similar subject which was brought to the Palazzo Ducale by the Contarinis in 1713. In the Roman painting, Sebastiano’s mature work can be clearly seen in the scenographic composition which dramatically places the figures in the foreground, in the fluid spread of luminous, variegated colour with no chiaroscuro depth, and in the elegance of the figures, which are perfectly in tune with the finest expression of international Rococo.