Ancient 'sensual' painting uncovered by workers in Pompeii

Archaeologists have unearthed a striking work of art in the ancient city of Pompeii: a fresco depicting the myth of Leda and the Swan.

In the story, the god Jupiter takes the form of a swan and impregnates a mortal woman, named Leda.

According to the lead archaeologist at Pompeii, scenes of Leda and the Swan were fairly common in the city's houses before they were destroyed in AD79 by the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius.

This particular artwork is notable because it was painted to make it appear Leda was looking at whoever saw the fresco upon entering the bedroom. "Leda watches the spectator with a sensuality that's absolutely pronounced," according to Pompeii's archaeological park director, Massimo Osanna.

Osanna said one theory was that the home's owner was a rich merchant who wanted to give the impression he was culturally advanced by incorporating myth-inspired frescoes. It appeared the artist was inspired by a fourth-century BC sculpture by Timotheos, he said.

In Greek mythology Leda was said to have given birth to children fathered by the god Zeus and by a mortal king of Sparta and this included the beautiful Helen of Troy.