When an enamored Zeus changed form into a bull to kidnap and ravish the beautiful Phoenician princess Europa, a continent was born.
Originally from Tyre, South Lebanon, she was whisked away to Crete, where her union with Zeus would see the birth of many of the Helenistic demi-gods. It’s a local legend of timeless proportions that has fascinated artists of all disciplines for centuries.
Europa appears in Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ and Homer’s ‘The Iliad’ and since then, her grace and suffering have continued to inspire sculptors, poets and artists over centuries. In today’s world, the force of the myth remains poignant in interpreting the relations between East and West.
Lebanese artist Hussein Madi has been obsessed with the myth for decades. “The idea that this woman names a continent is fascinating to me,” the now elderly Madi explains from his atelier. “And the fact that she came from [Tyre] makes it all the more fascinating. I love this story.”
It was the timelessness of the mythology and Madi’s reinterpretation of the legend that brought European watchmakers, the Swiss-made Gerard Perregaux to Lebanese shores and directly to Madi.
Girard Perregaux, who are sponsors of the Menasart Fair — the second Middle East and North and South African art fair to be held in Beirut in July this year — approached Madi to create two unique paintings to be used on the faces of two limited edition watches.
The result is artwork within an artwork that derives its extravagance not just from its convergence of multi-disciplined beauty and high art, but also in claiming a charming slice of history.
The two limited haute horlogerie watches — a male and a female version — feature individualized artworks, reinterpretations of the kidnap of Europa first painted by Madi, then painstakingly transformed into mother-of-pearl mosaics to be fitted on the faces of the 1966 watches by Girard Perregaux craftsmen, over more than 700 hours.
The watches, as yet unpriced, will be unveiled for the first time at the fair but have already attracted palpable excitement. “When we saw Madi’s work and we saw the legend, we knew he was perfect for the project,” explained Zeina Annan, the marketing director for AS Chronora, Girard Perregaux’s agents in Lebanon. “This year we will prove that watch-making is an art form and this is a story and a project that is really close to our hearts.”