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Sir Peter Lely, 1618–1680

Diana and her Nymphs at a Fountain

ca. 1648
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
29 1/2 × 36 1/2 inches (74.9 × 92.7 cm), Frame: 34 3/4 × 41 3/4 inches (88.3 × 106 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
bathing | fountain | goddess | nymphs | religious and mythological subject | woods
Associated People:
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

Painted soon after Peter Lely's arrive in England, this picture was one of a series of mythological and religious scenes that the artist hoped would launch his career. In time, his portraits brought him fame, wealth, and status in an adopted home, which one contemporary conceded was "an un-understanding land" --unreceptive to his talents as a subject matter painter.
Here, Lely depicts Diana, virgin goddess of the woods, the hunt, and the night, attended upon by nymphs who wash and bring water from the fountain to clean her hands. Diana's pale white skin highlights her cleanliness and would have been understood as an aspect of her feminine virtue. The depiction of the nymphs who carries the vessel into which Diana dabs her fingers must be one of the earliest of an African woman in British Art. The scene anticipates the famous episode in Ovid of the discovery of Diana and her nymphs by Actaeon, who, chancing upon the undressed goddess, was transformed into a stag; then was set upon by his own hounds and rent to a swift and cruelly ironic death.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2019

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