The myth of Europa
In Greek mythology, Europa, the daughter of a Phoenician king, was seduced by the god Zeus, in the shape of a bull, who carried her away to Crete. The story inspired the ancient Greeks to use “Europe” as a geographical term.
Choosing her portrait
Portraits have traditionally been used on banknotes all over the world. Research has shown that people tend to recognise faces easily. The portrait of Europa was chosen to feature in the new euro banknotes because it has an obvious link to the continent of Europe and also adds a human touch to the banknotes. This particular image was taken from a vase in the Louvre in Paris.
Europa, the new face of the euro
Discover how Europa became the new face of the euro and take a closer look at the ancient vase from the Louvre that depicts her.
Bell vase with red figures
Apulia, around 360 BC
Side A: Europa and Zeus, in the form a bull
Side B: Dionysos, maenad and satyr
Why was the figure on the vase chosen to become a European symbol? First of all, because of the innovative iconography which transforms the love story between Zeus and Europa.
The painter did not focus, as so many before him, on the abduction of Europa by Zeus, in the form of a bull, but on the seduction scene which precedes the abduction. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and her son Eros place this episode in the repertoire of gallant mythology. Evident too is the coquetry of Europa, richly adorned and mirrored in the water of the nearby pond, and the gesture of reverence by the magnificent bull in brilliant white, of which the poets speak. This is a seductive Europa.
In addition, the complex history of the vase perfectly reflects the exchanges underlying the construction of a European identity. The vase was made in the second quarter of the fourth century BC in a mixed cultural environment in the Taranto area, southern Italy, where Greeks were living alongside the natives of that region. Its Greek origins emphasise the importance of antiquity in the formation of a common culture. Created by a Greek craftsman in southern Italy, the vase was purchased in the early 19th century by the Louvre, where it is now preserved.