In a canvas filled with half-naked, twisting bodies, the story of Bacchus's birth unfolds in a typically wry Mannerist comment on the perils of passion. On discovering that the chief god Jupiter had impregnated the young mortal Semele, his wife Juno hatched a plan to end their love affair. Disguised as Semele's nurse, and knowing that Jupiter's lightning and thunder were lethal, she persuaded Semele to ask Jupiter to visit "in all his glory." Here, as Semele gives birth to Bacchus, who is caught by nymphs, as she herself is consumed by flames. From the top of the clouds, Juno looks apprehensively at her thunderbolt-carrying husband.
Giulio Romano and his workshop originally painted this scene as part of an erotic series of mythological love stories for Federico Gonzaga, duke of Mantua. Giulio probably did not execute the series by himself, though he probably designed them and painted selected parts.