The Apotheosis of Herakles

Apotheosis (Deification) of Herakles Pediment, c. 570 BC, Actite, a type of porous limestone, painted,  H. 0.94 m, L. 1.74 m, Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece
https://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en/apotheosis-deification-herakles-pediment

I will sing of Herakles, the son of Zeus and much the mightiest of men on earth. Alcmena bare him in Thebes, the city of lovely dances, when the dark-clouded Son of Cronos had lain with her. Once he used to wander over unmeasured tracts of land and sea [5] at the bidding of King Eurystheus, and himself did many deeds of violence and endured many; but now he lives happily in the glorious home of snowy Olympus, and has neat-ankled Hebe for his wife. Hail, lord, son of Zeus’ Give me success and prosperity… writes the anonymous poet of Homeric Hymn 15… and The Apotheosis of Herakles in the Acropolis Museum comes to my mind. https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0138%3Ahymn%3D15

Let’s answer some questions about The Apotheosis of Herakles in the Acropolis Museum…

What is a Pediment and how important Pediments were they for Greek Temple Architecture? According to the Encyclopedia Britannica… Pediment, in architecture, is a triangular gable forming the end of the roof slope over a portico (the area, with a roof supported by columns, leading to the entrance of a building). For ancient Greek architecture, the two pediments featured on the two narrow sides of their temples were very important. They served as the ‘crowning feature’ of the whole structure. The triangular wall surface of the pediment, called the tympanum, was often decorated with sculptural compositions. Last but not least, Pediments were always crowned by a raking, or slanted, cornice. https://www.britannica.com/technology/pediment-architecture

Where, and When, did the Apotheosis of Herakles Pediment was discovered? The Apotheosis of Herakles pediment was discovered, during the 1888 excavation period, buried, east and southeast of the Parthenon, in the Acropolis of Athens.

Was the Apotheosis of Herakles Pediment part of the Acropolis Perserschutt? Yes! The Perserschutt consists of numerous remains of statues vandalized by the Achaemenids during the terrible years of the second Persian invasion… Ten years after the Battle of Marathon (490 BC), the Persians returned to Greece and after their victory at the Battle of Thermopylae, in September of 480 BC, they entered Athens. The small number of Athenians who had barricaded themselves on the Acropolis, hoping that the Wooden Walls of the Delphic Oracle would protect them, were eventually defeated, and Xerxes ordered Athens to be torched. Those Persians who had come up first betook themselves to the gates, which they opened, and slew the suppliants; and when they had laid all the Athenians low, they plundered the temple and burnt the whole of the Acropolis. (Herodotus VIII.53). Months later, after the victory at Salamis, and the Battle of Plateae in 479 BC, the Athenians returned to their city… they respectfully buried the mutilated sacred statues of the Archaic period on the Acropolis (these remains are called Perserschutt) and proceeded with reorganizing their civic and private lives… waiting for the right time to rebuild their Acropolis. https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/special-topics-art-history/arches-at-risk-cultural-heritage-education-series/xa0148fd6a60f2ff6:ruins-reconstruction-and-renewal/a/destruction-memory-and-monuments-the-many-lives-of-the-parthenon

Which Acropolis building did the Apotheosis architectural sculptures decorate? Archaeologists are not categorically certain. According to the Acropolis Museum experts, the pediment probably decorated one of the small buildings, referred to as “oikemata”, on the Archaic Acropolis. Some scholars, however, suggest these remains were once part of the pediment of the Hekatompedon, a building that stood on the site now occupied by the Parthenon. https://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en/apotheosis-deification-herakles-pediment

Apotheosis (Deification) of Herakles Pediment (details), c. 570 BC, Actite, a type of porous limestone, painted, H. 0.94 m, L. 1.74 m, Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece
https://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en/apotheosis-deification-herakles-pediment
Apotheosis (Deification) of Herakles Pediment (detail), c. 570 BC, Actite, a type of porous limestone, painted, H. 0.94 m, L. 1.74 m, Acropolis Museum, Athens, Greece
https://www.theacropolismuseum.gr/en/apotheosis-deification-herakles-pediment

How important, artistically, is the Apotheosis Pediment? These pedimental sculptures are of high quality. Of particular interest are the heads that have been preserved, that of Zeus and especially that of Heracles with finely worked details of his facial features and hair. The garments worn by the figures are equally attractively rendered, as is Zeus’s throne with palmettes on the legs, and the skin of the lion, whose head, with incised curls on the mane, covers Heracles’ head like a hood. https://www.latsis-foundation.org/content/elib/book_8/acropolis_en.pdf page 30-31

Louis Émile Emmanuel Gilliéron (known as Émile Gilliéron père), Suisse Artist, 1851-1924
Apotheosis (Deification) of Herakles Pediment, 1919, Watercolor and graphite on paper, L. 110.5 cm, H. 85.1 cm, the MET, NY, USA https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/625053?&exhibitionId=0&oid=625053&pkgids=773

How is Émile Gilliéron père related to The Apotheosis of Herakles Pediment? In a letter addressed to Gisela M. A. Richter, curator of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, dated October 29, 1918, Emile Gilliéron père informs the noted archaeologist and art historian, that he has executed, at the Acropolis of Athens, four watercolors that may interest the Museum. One of these watercolours is the Apotheosis of Herakles. Gilliéron, recognized as a skilled archaeological draftsman, worked for the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (DAI) in the Acropolis, Heinrich Schliemann at Mycenae, and  Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos, where Gilliéron father and son served for thirty years as draftsmen, restorers, and advisers. The watercolour of the Apotheosis Pediment is of the utmost importance. It documents the vibrant colours the Archaic artist used, red, blue, black, green, and yellow, at the time of their discovery, before they were altered by prolonged exposure to the elements. The Gilliéron watercolour is exhibited at the MET, NY Exhibition Chroma: Ancient Sculpture in Color (Through    26, 2023). https://www.metmuseum.org/art/metpublications/Watercolors_of_the_Acropolis_Emile_Gillieron_in_Athens

For a PowerPoint on Gilliéron’s Watercolours of the Acropolis architectural sculptures, please… Check HERE!

The Epiphany of Dionysus Mosaic in Delos

House of Dionysus, Epiphany of Dionysus, 2nd century BC, Mosaic, Delos Island, Greece https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosaics_of_Delos#/media/File:Delos_Museum_Mosaik_Dionysos_05.jpg

In Euripides’s Bacchae, it is Teiresia’s role, addressing Pentheus, to introduce Dionysus to the audience, just like the Epiphany of Dionysus Mosaic in Delos does… visually! …You have a rapid tongue as though you were sensible, but there is no sense in your words… [270] This new god, whom you ridicule, I am unable to express how great he will be throughout Hellas. For two things, young man, [275] are first among men: the goddess Demeter—she is the earth, but call her whatever name you wish; she nourishes mortals with dry food; but he who came afterward, the offspring of Semele, discovered a match to it, the liquid drink of the grape, and introduced it [280] to mortals. It releases wretched mortals from grief, whenever they are filled with the stream of the vine, and gives them sleep, a means of forgetting their daily troubles, nor is there another cure for hardships. He who is a god is poured out in offerings to the gods, [285] so that by his means men may have good things! http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0092%3Acard%3D266

House of Dionysus, Epiphany of Dionysus (Detail), 2nd century BC, Mosaic, Delos Island, Greece  https://www.greece-is.com/why-mykonos-became-a-muse-for-the-worlds-most-discerning-travelers/

There is no easy way to describe God Dionysus. The Homeric Hymns 26 on Dionysus is, I believe, a wonderful introduction… [1] I begin to sing of ivy-crowned Dionysus, the loud-crying god, splendid son of Zeus and glorious Semele. The rich-haired Nymphs received him in their bosoms from the lord his father and fostered and nurtured him carefully [5] in the dells of Nysa, where by the will of his father he grew up in a sweet-smelling cave, being reckoned among the immortals. But when the goddesses had brought him up, a god oft hymned, then began he to wander continually through the woody coombes, thickly wreathed with ivy and laurel. And the Nymphs followed in his train [10] with him for their leader; and the boundless forest was filled with their outcry.    /    And so hail to you, Dionysus, god of abundant clusters! Grant that we may come again rejoicing to this season, and from that season onwards for many a year. The Homeric Hymns 26 on Dionysus is, I believe, a wonderful introduction! https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0138%3Ahymn%3D26 

House of Dionysus, Epiphany of Dionysus (Face Close Up), 2nd century BC, Mosaic, Delos Island, Greece https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosaics_of_Delos#/media/File:Face_of_Dionysos_(detail),_mosaic_of_the_House_of_Dionysos,_Delos,_Greece,_2nd_century_BC.jpg

The Epiphany of Dionysus Mosaic in Delos shows the God exactly as Homer describes him… splendid, thickly wreathed with ivy and laurel, god of abundant clusters of grapes! An anonymous 2nd century BC mosaicist, created on the island of Delos, at the House of Dionysus to be exact, a stunning mosaic emblema depicting Dionysus in all his glory. Against a black background, the God of wine and theater, ivy-crowned, wings outstretched, holding with his right hand a ribboned thyrsus like he is holding a spear, is shown on the back of a tiger that wears a necklace wreath of vines and grapes around its neck. They seem to ride within the boundaries of a landscape mosaic composition of plants, a beetle, and a kantharos-type cup. Is Dionysus depicted coming back from India, magnificently winged like a daemon? It would be nice if we were certain.

The mosaic in the House of Dionysus is one of the finest examples of Opus Vermiculatum. The tesserae used for carrying it out, measuring about one-millimeter square, were made of glass, faience, terracotta, and natural stones. Their small size made it easier for the mosaicist to produce a realistic figured scene, shading, known to the Greeks as skiagraphia, for three-dimensionality, and a sense of illusionism. The name and origin of the mosaicist are a mystery. The name and origin of the owners of the so-called ‘House of Dionysus’ in Delos is a mystery as well. Today, the House of Dionysus stands out from afar thanks to its huge marble columns that surround the courtyard where the Epiphany of Dionysus Mosaic, one of the most exquisite creations of the Hellenistic art of mosaic-making was placed, for all visitors, to admire.

For a PowerPoint on God Dionysus, please… Check HERE!

House of Dionysus, Epiphany of Dionysus (Detail of Panther), 2nd century BC, Mosaic, Delos Island, Greece https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mosaics_of_Delos#/media/File:Delos_Museum_Mosaik_Dionysos_09.jpg

The Fall of Icarus

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, attributed, 1526/1530–1569
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, circa 1558, oil on canvas mounted on wood, 73.5×112 cm, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_de_Oude_-_De_val_van_Icarus.jpg

The ancient Greek Myth of Icarus has endured not only in visual but in literary arts as well! The Fall of Icarus attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder(According to the museum: “It is doubtful the execution is by Bruegel the Elder, but the composition can be said with certainty to be his”) is a fine example of how the Visual and the Literary Arts complement each other! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landscape_with_the_Fall_of_Icarus

The myth of Icarus’s Fall is magnificently told by Ovid in Book VIII: 183-235 of his Metamorphoses… When Daedalus had put the last touches to what he had begun, the artificer balanced his own body between the two wings and hovered in the moving air. He instructed the boy as well, saying ‘Let me warn you, Icarus, to take the middle way, in case the moisture weighs down your wings, if you fly too low, or if you go too high, the sun scorches them. Travel between the extremes. And I order you not to aim towards Bootes, the Herdsman, or Helice, the Great Bear, or towards the drawn sword of Orion: take the course I show you!’ At the same time as he laid down the rules of flight, he fitted the newly created wings on the boy’s shoulders. While he worked and issued his warnings the aging man’s cheeks were wet with tears: the father’s hands trembled… but the boy did not listen… he began to delight in his daring flight, and abandoning his guide, drawn by desire for the heavens, soared higher… and disaster stroke! https://www.poetryintranslation.com/PITBR/Latin/Metamorph8.php#anchor_Toc64106497

The iconic painting of the Fall of Icarus in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium is an amazing World Landscape, a type of composition depicting an imaginary panoramic landscape seen from an elevated viewpoint that includes mountains and lowlands, water, and buildings. At first glance, it is not easy to notice the spot where Icarus fell. All the artist painted is a pair of legs kicking in the sea next to the big ship on the right side of the composition. The depicted plowman carries on with his task while the shepherd seems unaware of the event, gazing into the air, away from the ship. Could the artist present the Flemish proverb… And the farmer continued to plough… pointing out the ignorance of people of fellow men’s suffering? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_landscape and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landscape_with_the_Fall_of_Icarus

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, attributed, 1526/1530–1569
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (detail of Icarus), circa 1558, oil on canvas mounted on wood, 73.5×112 cm, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium  https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/Pieter_bruegel_il_vecchio%2C_caduta_di_icaro%2C_1558_circa_07.JPG
Pieter Brueghel the Elder, attributed, 1526/1530–1569
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (detail of the boat), circa 1558, oil on canvas mounted on wood, 73.5×112 cm, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium 
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_bruegel_il_vecchio,_caduta_di_icaro,_1558_circa_06_nave.JPG

The Fall of Icarus attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder inspired the acclaimed poet of the Imagist movement, William Carlos Williams (1883-1963) to write… According to Brueghel / when Icarus fell / it was spring     /     a farmer was ploughing / his field / the whole pageantry     /     of the year was / awake tingling / near     /     the edge of the sea / concerned / with itself     /     sweating in the sun / that melted / the wings’ wax     /     unsignificantly / off the coast / there was     /     a splash quite unnoticed / this was / Icarus drowning…  https://poets.org/poem/landscape-fall-icarus

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, attributed, 1526/1530–1569
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (detail of the city), circa 1558, oil on canvas mounted on wood, 73.5×112 cm, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium  https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/painting-of-the-week-pieter-bruegel-the-elder-landscape-with-the-fall-of-icarus/

It inspired, the British-American poet, Wystan Hugh Auden, as well, who writes …In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away / Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may / Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, / But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone / As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green / Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen / Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, / Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on. http://english.emory.edu/classes/paintings&poems/auden.html

Amazing!

For a Student Activity on The Fall of Icarus, a painting in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and the poem Lines on Brueghel’s “Icarus” by Michael Peter Leopold Hamburger (1924-2007) inspired by the painting, please… Check HERE!

An interesting Video, prepared by Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium and presented by Christine Ayoub on The proverbs in Pieter Bruegel’s “Fall of Icarus” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duf0knJ7CXI

Christine Ayoub, a guide at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, presents another interesting Video, reading an extract from Ovid’s Metamorphoses featuring the tale of the Fall of Icarus.  https://artsandculture.google.com/story/ewUxXpmuNdcLJg

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, attributed, 1526/1530–1569
Landscape with the Fall of Icarus (detail of the sun), circa 1558, oil on canvas mounted on wood, 73.5×112 cm, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium  https://www.dailyartmagazine.com/painting-of-the-week-pieter-bruegel-the-elder-landscape-with-the-fall-of-icarus/

The Sarcophagus of the Muses in the Louvre

Sarcophagus of the Muses, c. 150-160 AD, Pentelic Marble, 0.92×2.06 m, the Louvre Museum, Paris, France
https://twitter.com/MuseeLouvre/status/1254455247449317379/photo/1

[36] Come thou, let us begin with the Muses who gladden the great spirit of their father Zeus in Olympus with their songs, telling of things that are and that shall be and that were aforetime with consenting voice. Unwearying flows the sweet sound from their lips, and the house of their father Zeus the loud-thunderer is glad at the lily-like voice of the goddesses as it spread abroad, and the peaks of snowy Olympus resound, and the homes of the immortals. And they uttering their immortal voice, celebrate in song first of all the reverend race of the gods from the beginning, those whom Earth and wide Heaven begot, and the gods sprung of these, givers of good things. Then, next, the goddesses sing of Zeus, the father of gods and men, as they begin and end their strain, how much he is the most excellent among the gods and supreme in power. And again, they chant the race of men and strong giants, and gladden the heart of Zeus within Olympus, — the Olympian Muses, daughters of Zeus the aegis-holder… Writes Hesiod in his Theogony, describing the Muses… the lovely goddesses who dance and sing and inspire poets like Homer, Virgil, Dante, John Milton, and William Blake… Can The Sarcophagus of the Muses in the Louvre help us learn more about them? https://www.theoi.com/Text/HesiodTheogony.html

It does, indeed! According to the Louvre experts… Created around the mid-second century BC, this sarcophagus was probably made for a cultivated Roman anxious to demonstrate his attachment to Greek culture, with models drawn from Greek art. The composition of the frieze, the neutral background and the retrained attitude of the Muses all evoke the classical art of the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. This impression is sustained by the very discreet employment of the drill and the rounded forms of the carefully polished surfaces. The elongated figures of the young women and their almost statuesque appearance, suggested by the depth of the relief, also recall Hellenistic art. Furthermore, each Muse is clearly identified by her attributes and demeanour… https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010278285

Sarcophagus of the Muses, c. 150-160 AD, Pentelic Marble, 0.92×2.06 m, the Louvre Museum, Paris, France
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Muses_sarcophagus_Louvre_MR880.jpg

Let’s Identify them, starting from left to right…

Kalliope… According to Hesiod, Kalliope was the oldest of the nine Muses, the wisest, and the most assertive. As for the Roman poet Ovid, she was the Chief of all Muses! Orpheus was her son and poets since antiquity called upon her for inspiration! Kalliope is the Muse of Epic Poetry, Music, Song, Dance, and Eloquence. Her attribute is the Wax Tablet or the Scroll. Her name means beautiful-voiced.

Thalia… like all nine Muses, was the daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne (Goddess of Memory) and the mother of the Corybantes, the warrior dancers who worshipped goddess Cybele with drumming and dancing. Thalia is the Muse of Comedy and Bucolic Poetry. Among her attributes are the Comic mask, an ivy wreath, and the shepherd’s staff. She is the joyous, flourishing Muse.

Terpsichore… whose name means Delight in Dancing, is fittingly considered the Muse of Dance. Interestingly she is usually, not in the case of the Louvre Sarcophagus, depicted sitting down, holding a lyre, accompanying the dancers’ choirs with her music. Terpsichore was the mother of the dangerous Sirens, who lured sailors with their music and singing voices to shipwreck and death! Her attribute is the lyre.


Euterpe… the Giver of Delight, was, according to ancient Greek poets, the Goddess of Lyric Poetry. Along with her sisters, she entertained the Gods and Goddesses at Mount Olympus, but she also loved to wander around Mount Helicon and Mount Parnassus. Euterpe is credited as the inventor of the Aulos, an ancient Greek wind instrument, often translated as Flute or Double-Flute. The Aulos is her attribute.

  Polyhymnia… Muse of the sacred Poetry, is the most serious looking of all Muses. Often depicted pensive, and meditative, like in the case of the Louvre Sarcophagus, Polyhymnia, whose name means Praise, is often covered in a veil which is her attribute as well. Diodorus Siculus wrote that Polyhymnia, because by her great (polle) praises (humnesis) she brings distinction to writers whose works have won for them immortal fame…

Clio… whose name derives from the Greek root κλέω/κλείω, meaning to make famous or to celebrate. is the Muse of History. She is often presented holding an open scroll or seated beside a chest of books, which are her attributes as well.

Erato… is the Muse of erotic poetry, and mimic imitation. Her name, etymologically, shares the same root as Eros, the god of love! Erato is usually depicted holding her attribute, the Lyre or a Kithara, and she is adorned with a wreath of myrtle and roses!

Sarcophagus of the Muses (Urania and Melpomene), c. 150-160 AD, Pentelic Marble, 0.92×2.06 m, the Louvre Museum, Paris, France
https://mobile.twitter.com/archaeologyart/status/1448317781582172165/photo/1

Urania… the heavenly Muse of Astronomy, is often depicted wearing a cloak covered in stars, looking upwards toward the sky. In the case of the Louvre Sarcophagus, Urania is portrayed as pensive, looking downwards, pointing to the celestial Globe with a staff. In Orphic Hymn 76 to the Muses Urania is beautifully described as heavenly bright.

Melpomene… is the Melodious Muse of Tragic Poetry, the Muse who celebrates with dance and song. Melpomene is often depicted with her attributes… carrying a sword or a dagger, holding the tragic mask, and wearing cothurnus boots which were worn by tragic actors.

For a PowerPoint on The Sarcophagus of the Muses in the Louvre, please… Click HERE!

Interesting information on the 9 Muses can be found… https://www.theoi.com/Ouranios/Mousai.html and https://www.thoughtco.com/the-greek-muses-119788 and https://www.greekmythology.com/Other_Gods/The_Muses/the_muses.html and https://pantheon.org/articles/m/muse.html  

The astonishing Tapestry of Dionysus at Abegg-Stiftung

Dionysos and his entourage standing underneath arcades lavishly decked out in climbing foliage and braided ornaments, Egypt, 4th century, wool tapestry on a linen ground, h. 210 cm, w. ca. 700 cm, Abegg-Stiftung, Canton Bern , Switzerland
https://twitter.com/Pythika/status/1141411261286146048/photo/1
https://abegg-stiftung.ch/en/
https://twitter.com/caitlinrgreen/status/616963854870970368?lang=el

[1] I begin to sing of ivy-crowned Dionysus, the loud-crying god, splendid son of Zeus and glorious Semele. The rich-haired Nymphs received him in their bosoms from the lord his father and fostered and nurtured him carefully [5] in the dells of Nysa, where by the will of his father he grew up in a sweet-smelling cave, being reckoned among the immortals. But when the goddesses had brought him up, a god oft hymned, then began he to wander continually through the woody coombes, thickly wreathed with ivy and laurel. And the Nymphs followed in his train [10] with him for their leader; and the boundless forest was filled with their outcry.    /    And so hail to you, Dionysus, god of abundant clusters! Grant that we may come again rejoicing to this season, and from that season onwards for many a year. The Homeric Hymns 26 on Dionysus is, I believe, a wonderful introduction to The astonishing Tapestry of Dionysus at Abegg-Stiftung, my new BLOG POST… Translation by Hugh G. Evelyn-White. Homeric Hymns. Cambridge, MA, 1914, Harvard University Press, https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0138%3Ahymn%3D26

Regretfully, I never visited the Abegg-Stiftung, this amazing “cultural” center where the collection, conservation and study of historical textiles take place. Abegg-Stiftung is based just outside the village of Riggisberg in the foothills of the Bernese Alps, which is where the museum of textiles and applied art, the research library and the Villa Abegg, the Abeggs’ former home that is now a museum, are situated. The studio for textile conservation and restoration is also a training centre for budding young conservators. The Abegg-Stiftung publishes books and papers in which it shares its research findings with fellow historians and conservators as well as a lay readership. Year after year, its annual exhibitions shed new light on a material that has served humanity for thousands of years, whether made up into objects of everyday use or in the form of exquisite works of art. What an amazing place to visit and learn! https://abegg-stiftung.ch/en/

Dionysus and his entourage standing underneath arcades lavishly decked out in climbing foliage and braided ornaments (Museum Room View), Egypt, 4th century, wool tapestry on a linen ground, h. 210 cm, w. ca. 700 cm, Abegg-Stiftung, Canton Bern , Switzerland
file:///C:/Users/aspil/Downloads/ulfl202121_tm_Anexo%20(4).pdf

Among their rich collection of textiles from Late Antiquity, the visitor is astounded by grand and small examples showing figures from Graeco-Roman mythology and scenes from the Old Testament. What really fascinates me is the “Dionysus Hanging,” a monumental tapestry originally that served as a wall hanging in a Roman private home or cult building. The tapestry’s programme shows Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and ecstasy, and his entourage standing underneath arcades lavishly decked out in climbing foliage and braided ornaments. The cult of Dionysos was widespread in Late Antiquity. It promised its adherents life after death and was an articulation of the desire for a life of happiness and superfluity. https://abegg-stiftung.ch/en/collection/late-antiquity/

Dionysos and his entourage standing underneath arcades lavishly decked out in climbing foliage and braided ornaments (Detail), Egypt, 4th century, wool tapestry on a linen ground, h. 210 cm, w. ca. 700 cm, Abegg-Stiftung, Canton Bern , Switzerland
https://abegg-stiftung.ch/en/

An Abegg-Stiftung much-appreciated traditionis its dedication in publishing books and papers in which their experts share their research findings with fellow historians and conservators as well as a lay readership. Among the Museum’s rich List of Publications (for German readers) is a book titled Der Dionysosbehang der Abegg-Stiftung by Dietrich Willers und Bettina Niekamp, Riggisberger Berichte 20 | 272 S., 200 Abb., 32 Tafeln, 1 Falttafel, brosch., 23 x 31 cm, 2015, ISBN 978-3-905014-53-2 https://abegg-stiftung.ch/en/publication-category/riggisberger-berichte-en/

I was able to download Dietrich Willers’s Zur Begegnung von Heidentum und Christentum im spätantiken Ägypten – Der Dionysosbehang der AbeggStiftung (Schweiz) and read in Google translation… http://kgkw.de/Vortrags-Skripte/Willers/KGKW%20Willers.pdf  

Preparing for this BLOG POST I reread pp. 35-38 of Textiles of Late Antiquity, a 1995 Metropolitan Museum of Art Publication, and Woven Interiors: Furnishing Early Medieval Egypt, an Exhibition Catalogue of 2020, organized by the George Washington University Museum, The Textile Museum, and Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. https://museum.gwu.edu/woven-interiors-furnishing-early-medieval-egypt  

For a Student Activity on The astonishing Tapestry of Dionysus at Abegg-Stiftung, please… Check HERE!

Dionysos and his entourage standing underneath arcades lavishly decked out in climbing foliage and braided ornaments (Detail), Egypt, 4th century, wool tapestry on a linen ground, h. 210 cm, w. ca. 700 cm, Abegg-Stiftung, Canton Bern , Switzerland
https://abegg-stiftung.ch/en/

Theseus and Antiope

Theseus and Antiope, sculpture from the West Pediment of the Temple of Apollo Daphnephorus in ancient Eretria, late 6th century, Marble, 110 cm, Archaeological Museum of Eretria, Greece
https://www.esag.swiss/eretria/museum/

The multiple aspects of the concept of Kallos in the everyday life and the philosophical discourse of ancient Greece are presented in the major, emblematic, archaeological exhibition of the Museum of Cycladic Art, titled ΚΑLLOS. The Ultimate Beauty. Τhis exhibition displays three hundred emblematic antiquities from fifty-two museums, collections, and Ephorates of Antiquities throughout Greece, as well as from Italy, and the Vatican. The overwhelming majority appear for the first time outside of the museums of their provenance. They meet and mingle in the Museum of Cycladic Art, so as to give an integrated picture of the ideal of Kallos, inadequately translated into English as Beauty. On the 6th of November I presented you one such exhibit… the Kore from Chios today, I will present you a favourite Archaic work of art… Theseus and Antiope! https://cycladic.gr/en/page/kallos-i-ipertati-omorfia

The story of  Theseus and Antiope has it all… adventure, strife, love, and devotion! According to Pausanias and his Description of Greece… As one enters the city (of Athens) there is a monument to Antiope the Amazon. This Antiope, Pindar says, was carried off by Peirithous and Theseus, but Hegias of Troezen gives the following account of her. Heracles was besieging Themiscyra on the Thermodon, but could not take it, but Antiope, falling in love with Theseus, who was aiding Heracles in his campaign, surrendered the stronghold. Such is the account of Hegias. But the Athenians assert that when the Amazons came, Antiope was shot by Molpadia, while Molpadia was killed by Theseus. To Molpadia also there is a monument among the Athenians. https://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Paus.%201.2.1&lang=original

ΚΑLLOS. The Ultimate Beauty Exhibition Photo, Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, Greece
Photo Credit: Paris Tativian, Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens, Greece
https://cycladic.gr/page/kallos-i-ipertati-omorfia?slide=1

The effigy of Theseus and Antiope, temporarily exhibited in the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens, was originally created for the West Pediment of the Temple of Apollo Daphnephorus in Eretria. Information regarding the Temple of Apollo in Eretria is unfortunately scarce. Eretria, a town in Euboea facing the coast of Attica, was first mentioned in Homer’s Iliad as one of the cities that provided ships against the Trojans. During the 8th century BC, the citizens of Eretria, a flourishing city during the Geometric and Archaic periods, built an impressive Temple to honour God Apollo, apsidal in architectural form. Soon after, a second, wooden Temple followed on the same site. Finally, around 520- 490 BC, a larger stone Temple was built, the remains of which are still visible today. Unfortunately, the Archaic Temple was badly destroyed during the Persian invasion of 490 BC. https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/classics/intranets/students/modules/greekreligion/database/clunba/

Theseus and Antiope, sculpture from the West Pediment of the Temple of Apollo Daphnephorus in ancient Eretria, late 6th century, Marble, 110 cm, Archaeological Museum of Eretria, Greece
In colour reconstruction on plaster and on paper, Investigations by Vinzenz Brinkmann, executed by Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann, 1992
https://www.wikiart.org/en/ancient-greek-painting/reconstruction-of-antiope-and-theseus–490
(c) Vinzenz Brinkmann 2018 & Ulrike Koch-Brinkmann, Polychromy Research Project
http://www.stiftung-archaeologie.de/Theseus_Antiope_ApollDahnephorosEretria.html
https://www.esag.swiss/eretria/museum/

The late Archaic period (510-500 BC) pediment sculpture depicting the abduction of Antiope by Theseus portrays the moment of Theseus stepping onto a chariot’s platform while tightly holding Antiope in his arms… a decisive moment in the development of the story, a key moment in the development of ancient Greek Art. Notice the depicted entwined torsos and think of the evolution accomplished as figural depiction moves from the frontal and immobile Kouros and Kore type of sculpture to the more naturalistic modeling of the classical era. Notice how the psychological drama unfolds, and consider the subtle ways the artist of Theseus and Antiope presents the understated surrender of the elegant Amazon, and the restrained triumph of the victorious hero. Notice how the heads of both figures slightly bend and observe the created interplay of light and shade, shapes and forms. What an accomplishment for the unknown artist. Could he be the famous Athenian sculptor Antenor? https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/classics/intranets/students/modules/greekreligion/database/clunba/

For a PowerPoint on the Theseus and Antiope theme, please… Check HERE!

Photograph of the actress Katharine Hepburn in the 1932 Broadway production of The Warrior’s Husband, March 1932
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Katharine_Hepburn_in_The_Warriors_Husband.jpg

Titian in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Tiziano Vecelli (Titian in English), c. 1488/90-1576
The Rape of Europa, between 1560 and 1562, Oil on Canvas, 178 × 205 cm, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston, USA
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a3/L%27Enl%C3%A8vement_d%27Europe_Rubens.jpeg

Titian in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is about an amazing Exhibition titled Titian – Women, Myth & Power running from August 12 to January 2, 2022. The Exhibition presents Titian’s poesie — or painted poetries — that envision epic stories from classical Antiquity. These poesies were created between 1551 and 1561, for King Philip II of Spain, by no other than the incredible Venetian artist, Titian! It is, undoubtedly, priceless, for the Exhibition visitor, to be able to see for the first time in over four centuries, the renowned paintings reunited… conversing with each other. For the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, inspiration was, I can only guess, their own painting of Titian’s… Rape of Europa. https://www.gardnermuseum.org/calendar/exhibition/women-myth-power

Tiziano Vecelli (Titian in English), c. 1488/90-1576
Philip II of Spain, between 1549 and 1550, Oil on Canvas, 103×82 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/e/ec/Philip_II_portrait_by_Titian.jpg

 Not every painter has a gift for painting, in fact, many painters are disappointed when they meet with difficulties in art. Painting done under pressure by artists without the necessary talent can only give rise to formlessness, as painting is a profession that requires peace of mind. The painter must always seek the essence of things, always represent the essential characteristics and emotions of the person he is painting… Titian believed and applied when, between 1549 and 1550, he painted the Portrait of his most important patron, Philip II of Spain, the man with whom, the artist established one of the most fruitful artistic relationships of the European Renaissance. This fruitful artistic relationship between the aging Venetian Master, and the 21-year-old Prince of Spain, at the time, led to the poesie paintings… large canvases inspired by stories taken from Ovid’s (43 BC–17 AD) Metamorphoses and other Classical works. https://www.azquotes.com/quote/1112271 and https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/philip-ii/7249afc2-e80c-4e47-8dba-0dda1758a9aa and https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/past/titian-love-desire-death/titian-s-poesie-the-commission

Titian, given free rein by Philip to choose the subjects and to create new and innovative compositions, outdid himself choosing Myths that involve Gods and Mortals, Love and Death… The artist chose Myths that rely on powerful emotions, curiosity, jealousy, love, and desire, for their drama. https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/past/titian-love-desire-death/mary-beard-on-titian-and-ovid

DanaëAlthough Danaë was isolated at the top of a tower by her father, King Acrisius of Argos, in an attempt to prevent her from becoming a mother, Zeus sought her out and in the form of a shower of gold, impregnated her. Titian’s Danaë, one of his favourite mythological women, ever sensual and voluptuous, was always a woman depicted at the moment in which Zeus possesses her in the form of golden rain, surprised, contented, and innocent looking. Danaë was the first Poesie presented to Prince Philip. https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/siteassets/home/visit/places-to-visit/apsley-house/history/significance/conserving-titians-mistress/titian-exhibition-guide.pdf

Titian’s Aphrodite and Adonis, presents a moment… not described in Ovid’s Metamorphoses or any other classical source. Invenzioned by Titianthe painting portrays Adonis, ready for the hunt, separating himself from Venus´s embrace. This is a scene of seduction, female initiative, and scandalous behaviour. Aphrodite, in a desperate effort, tries to restrain her lover with a seductive embrace… all in vain, Adonis’s fate is sealed!https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/venus-and-adonis/bc9c1e08-2dd7-44d5-b926-71cd3e5c3adb

While out hunting, Actaeon accidentally discovered the secret bathing place of Artemis, goddess of the moon and hunt. Titian’s Artemis and Actaeon, in the National Galleries of Scotland, chose to portray the exact inciting incident when the victims’ fate is sealed. A dramatic intrusion scene, a dynamic arrangement of figures, sparkling light, intense colour, and animated brushwork… Titian’s painting is a glimpse of the artist’s ability  to create magic! https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/8685/diana-and-actaeon

Every time I see the constellation of Ursa Major, I think of Callisto, Zeus, Hera, and Artemis, a myth of innocence, violence, wrath, and punishment… a Renaissance painting by Titian, Artemis and Callisto, and a Patron who loved women and hunting… https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/artists/titian-tiziano-vecellio

Titian’s Rape of Europa, painted in Venice in the 1560s, is inspired by a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Infatuated with Europa, Jupiter—king of the gods—transforms himself into a beautiful white bull and joins a herd grazing near the seashore. Europa, close by with her companions, approaches the beautiful creature with her hand outstretched. Finding him tame, she plays with the bull in a meadow and entwines flowers around his horns. When she climbs playfully on his back, the mischievous god seizes the opportunity and springs into the sea, spiriting away the target of his affections while she clings to him in terror… waving desperately at her companions on the shore. https://www.gardnermuseum.org/experience/collection/10978

Arrogance, revenge, sacrifice, bravery…the Myth of Perseus and Andromeda, has it all! Painted between 1551 and 1562 by Titian, a poesie for King Philip II of Spain, is an epic scene of heroic bravery. Perhaps, the most dramatic of all poesie paintings, shows how Perseus, Danaë’s son, swoops down to rescue Andromeda, his powerful vertiginous descent contrasting vividly with her passive vulnerability. https://www.wallacecollection.org/blog/the-wallace-collections-first-transatlantic-loan/

Although never delivered to Philip II, the last of Titian’s poesie, the Death of  Actaeon, is another powerful painting of unprecedented originality as the subject is rare in Italian art and Titian may never have seen another painting of it. With dynamic brushstrokes and majestic colours, Titian depicts the moment of divine wrath and punishment… Actaeon in the process of transformation is torn to death by his own hounds! https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/titian-the-death-of-actaeon

Short Video Presentation on the five Poesies by Titian… https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/past/titian-love-desire-death/facebook-live

An interesting Video by Mary Beard on Titian and Ovid… https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/past/titian-love-desire-death/mary-beard-on-titian-and-ovid

For the PowerPoint on Titian’s Poesies, please… Click HERE!

The Borghese Dancers

Nicolas Poussin, 1594-1665
A Dance to the Music of Time, about 1634,
By kind permission of the Trustees of the Wallace Collection, London (P108) © The Trustees of the Wallace Collection
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/poussin-and-the-dance/major-loan-announced-for-poussin-and-the-dance
Relief with Five Dancers before a Portico (The Borghese Dancers), 2nd century AD, Marble, 74×186 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Photo: Ilya Shurygin 2014 – http://ancientrome.ru/art/artworken/img.htm?id=8452

Thence, fleet as thought, he leaves the earth for Olympos / and goes to the palace of Zeus and the company of the other gods. / Forthwith the immortals take interest in his song and lyre, / and all the Muses, answering with beautiful voices, / hymn the divine gifts of the gods and the hardships / brought upon men by the immortal gods. . Men live an unresourceful and thoughtless life, unable / to find a cure for death and a charm to repel old age. / And the fair-tressed Graces and the kindly Seasons / and Harmonia and Hebe and Aphrodite, the daughter of Zeus, / dance, each holding the other’s wrist. / Among them sings one, neither ugly nor slight of stature / but truly of great size and marvelous aspect, / arrow-pouring Artemis, Apollon’s twin sister. / And with them play Ares and keen-eyed Argeiphontes; / Phoibos Apollon, his step high and stately, / plays the lyre, enveloped in the brilliance / from his glittering feet and well-woven garment. / And Leto of the golden tresses and Zeus the counselor / rejoice in their great souls as they lookupon / their dear son playing among the immortals. This is how the ancient Greek Poet of the Homeric Hymn to Apollo (186-206) describes the fair-tressed Goddesses of Mount Olympus dance… and I can only think of The Borghese Dancers in the Louvre and the Poussin and the Dance Exhibition at the National Gallery (9 October 2021 – 2 January 2022)… and hope I can somehow see them… in London! https://escholarship.org/content/qt1bt36698/qt1bt36698_noSplash_b06fdd7a1448e726a360295a8d2c7f29.pdf and https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/poussin-and-the-dance

Relief with Five Dancers before a Portico (The Borghese Dancers), 2nd century AD, Marble, 74×186 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Photo: Ilya Shurygin 2014 – http://ancientrome.ru/art/artworken/img.htm?id=8452

The Borghese Dancers is named after the Villa Borghese in Rome, where the sculptural piece was originally exhibited above the door of the grand gallery, since the early 17th century. The celebrated Roman relief displays five female figures in clinging draperies dancing to a gentle but measured step. It is a fine work of art, typical of the Neo-Attic sculptural style of the 2nd century AD, that emphasizes grace and charm, serenity, and restrained animation. Could the Borghese Dancers be a portrayal of the Dance of the Horae, the Greek Goddesses of the changing Seasons and Time? Could they be just “dancers” holding hands while moving gracefully in front of a wall with a row of Corinthian pilasters? Difficult questions to answer… In 1807, the Roman relief was purchased by Napoleon Bonaparte, brother-in-law of Prince Camillo Borghese. Between 1808 and 1811 it was sent to Paris where in 1820 it was displayed in the Musée du Louvre… where it can still be viewed today. https://wallacelive.wallacecollection.org/eMP/eMuseumPlus?service=ExternalInterface&module=collection&objectId=65841&viewType=detailView and https://www.worldhistory.org/image/10521/borghese-dancers/ and https://www.capronicollection.com/products/borghese-dancers-item-193 and https://collections.louvre.fr/en/ark:/53355/cl010275681

Nicolas Poussin, 1594-1665
A Dance to the Music of Time, about 1634, by kind permission of the Trustees of the Wallace Collection, London (P108) © The Trustees of the Wallace Collection
https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/poussin-and-the-dance/major-loan-announced-for-poussin-and-the-dance

The sculptural relief, known as The Borghese Dancers in the Louvre has been an amazing source of inspiration for many artists, among them the Baroque French artist Nicolas Poussin, whose paintings of revelry, dance, and drama are brought together in this first exhibition dedicated and titled Poussin and the Dance, at the National Gallery, in London (9 October 2021 – 2 January 2022). The Museum experts tell us how… Poussin’s paintings of dance are unique…  bringing to life the classical world of gods and mortals with wild and riotous movement. The Exhibition, by bringing together the antique sculpture the artist studied, invites us to trace the evolution of his ideas from marble to paper to paint. A pure Joy… Tambourines shake, wine spills, and half-naked figures whirl across the canvas and teach us …invaluable lessons!https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/poussin-and-the-dance and https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/exhibitions/poussin-and-the-dance#VideoPlayer103778

For a Student Activity inspired by The Borghese Dancers, please… Check HERE!

Preparing for the POST I came across and read with great interest Sarah Elizabeth Olsen Dissertation: Beyond Choreia: Dance in Ancient Greek Literature and Culture,  whose Abstract begins… The chorus of Euripides’ Bacchae heralds the arrival of the god Dionysus by promising that “right away, the whole world will dance in a chorus” (αὐτίκα γᾶ πᾶσα χορεύσει, 114). Their exuberant claim reflects the enthusiasm for dance generally expressed in early Greek sources. Indeed, it has been well established that dance – specifically choreia (communal song-dance) – played a significant role in archaic and classical Greek social life and was thus accorded a high level of value and esteem in art and literature… https://escholarship.org/content/qt1bt36698/qt1bt36698_noSplash_b06fdd7a1448e726a360295a8d2c7f29.pdf

Maiolica Credenza

Nicola da Urbino, active by 1520–died ?1537/38
Armorial Plate (tondino): The story of King Midas (This plate is part of the Isabella D’Este Credenza), ca. 1520–25, Maiolica (tin-glazed earthenware), Diam. 27.5 cm, the MET, NY, USA
https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/459198?searchField=All&sortBy=Relevance&ft=Nicola+da+Urbino&offset=0&rpp=20&pos=1

Maiolica, the refined, white-glazed pottery of the Italian Renaissance, we are informed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art experts, was adapted to all objects that were traditionally ceramic, such as dishes, bowls, serving vessels, and jugs of all shapes and sizes. It was also used as a medium for sculpture and sculptural reliefs, as well as floor and ceiling tiles. The latter were rectangular, laid side by side across specially adapted joists. Maiolica Credenza is a new BLOG POST about a very special set of plates that connects important people of the Renaissance… Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua, Eleonora Gonzaga, Isabella’s daughter and Duchess of Urbino, and the artist Nicola da Urbino, a great innovator of the humble art of pottery-making. https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/maio/hd_maio.htm

Replicas of the twenty-three surviving dishes that make up Isabella D’Este’s Maiolica Credenza by Mantuan artist Ester Mantovani
https://milano.corriere.it/notizie/cronaca/15_novembre_01/i-piatti-raccontano-rinascimento-mostra-gioielli-isabella-d-este-71ab65c2-80b2-11e5-aac9-59b4cd97071f.shtml
 

I have had made a credenza (service, of a kind that could be displayed on a buffet) of earthenware vessels and I am sending it… since the maestri of this country of ours (the Duchy of Urbino) have some reputation for good work. And if it pleases Your Excellency I shall be happy and you might make use of it at Porto (Porto Mantovano, Isabella’s country villa) since it is a villa thing (Cosa da Ville)… elegantly wrote Eleonora Gonzaga, Duchess of Urbino to her mother Isabella d’Este, Marchioness of Mantua describing a magnificent gift of maiolica plates by Nicola da Urbino, the Raphael of Maiolica, the most important creator of the maiolica narrative (istoriato) painting. https://books.google.gr/books?id=2i_ADAAAQBAJ&pg=PA172&lpg=PA172&dq=Letter+of+Eleonora+Gonzaga+e+Isabella+d%27Este+on+a+credenza&source=bl&ots=hRCkXjAsnh&sig=ACfU3U08yg2DA0SUvn2Nvmyd4awltOnmMg&hl=el&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiR48z7xM3xAhU3gf0HHWvcBU8Q6AEwEnoECBYQAw#v=onepage&q=Letter%20of%20Eleonora%20Gonzaga%20e%20Isabella%20d’Este%20on%20a%20credenza&f=false

Gian Cristoforo Romano, ca. 1465-1512
Portrait Medal of Isabella d’Este, 1495-98, Gold with diamonds and enamel, D. 7 cm,
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Austria

Today I would like to act more like a Curator rather than a Teacher and present you with a site I am fascinated about. It is titled… IDEA Isabella D’Este Archive and I like the way it was founded, how it operates, and the wealth of information on the current topic. I wish I was in Mantua this summer and over gelato, listen to the stories the scholars of IDEA tell… how maiolica… was a popular type of earthenware in sixteenth-century Europe. How… this type of ceramic was fired at a low temperature and covered in a thin glaze that created a white ground for colorful narratives and personal emblems…How the IDEA scholars reunite in their site the surviving twenty-three individual maiolica dishes from Isabella’s credenza for study. Isabella d’Este’s maiolica dishes can no longer be viewed as a single service, and are now divided among museums and private collectors across three continents. By viewing all twenty-three dishes together, researchers have a better sense of service as a whole, in which the individual dishes, painted narratives of Ovid and Virgil, read like pages in a book. https://ideaart.web.unc.edu/idea-ceramics/

For the time being, I put together a PowerPoint of all surviving maiolica plates of the famous Isabella D’Este Credenza… HERE!

Two interesting IDEA Videos on the Isabella D’Este Maiolica Credenza by Nicola da Urbino can be seen… https://ideaart.web.unc.edu/the-illustrated-credenza/

I somehow feel this is the beginning of a fascinating journey…

Pollaiuolo’s Apollo and Daphne

Piero del Pollaiuolo, about 1441 – before 1496Apollo and Daphne, 1470-1480, oil on wood, 29.5 x 20 cm, The National Gallery, London

Daphne, daughter of Peneus, was Apollo’s first love, which not blind chance, but Cupid’s savage anger, gave… One suddenly loves, the other flees the name of lover, rejoicing in the hiding-places of the woods and with the spoils of captured beasts (and) as an imitator of unmarried Diana: a ribbon was restraining hair placed without rule… Having barely finished the prayer, a heavy numbness seizes her limbs, her soft breasts are girded by thin bark, her hair grows into foliage, her arms into branches, her foot, just now so swift, clings by sluggish roots, her face has the top of a tree: a single splendor remains in her… since you can’t be my bride, at least you will certainly be my tree! Metamorphoses by Ovid, translated by Wikisource, Daphne and Apollo help us better understand the dynamics in Pollaiuolo’s Apollo and Daphne painting.     https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Translation:Metamorphoses/Daphne_and_Apollo

A tiny picture in the National Gallery, inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses, tells us so many stories… “the rivalry of the gods, the power and danger of desire and the tragedy of unrequited love.”     https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/piero-del-pollaiuolo-apollo-and-daphne

The literary source for this amazing panel painting comes from the Metamorphoses, a narrative poem, built upon the Hellenistic erudite tradition, written during the period of Augustus, c. 8 AD, by the Roman poet Ovid. The poem includes 11,995 lines and is divided between 15 books and presents 250 myths. It is a record of world history starting with the creation of the world and finishing with the deification of Julius Caesar. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is considered the poet’s magnum opus. It was popular among the Romans and later highly regarded among Renaissance artists, as, rich in myths… transformations, personifications, loves, rivalries, jealousies, happy ends and tragic ends, communicated the greatest of stories!

Piero del Pollaiuolo’s painting of Apollo and Daphne depicts the most crucial of moments… the rivalry between Apollo and Cupid is a fait accompli, as one (Apollo) suddenly loves, and the other (Daphne) flees the name of lover. Apollo’s desire frightens Daphne who cries for help Father bring help! Rivers, if you have divinity, destroy my shape by which I’ve pleased too much, by changing it. Apollo’s love is not returned, and Daphne is slowly turned into the beautiful Laurel Tree. The god is, however, still enamoured and he loves this one too (the Laurel Tree) and with a right hand placed on the trunk feels that her heart still trembles under the new bark… As Daphne is slowly metamorphosing, he softly talks to her since you can’t be my bride, at least you will certainly be my tree! My hair will always have you, my lyres (will have you), my quivers (will have you), O Laurel…

For Polaiuolo, the Greek Myth of Apollo and Daphne becomes a Florentine affair. Daphne like Petrarch’s Laura becomes the ideal, unattainable love of the Renaissance courtly circles, “fair-skinned, blonde and seemingly modest.” She “allows young men to nobly strive for an ideal beauty beyond their reach.” Apollo, fair, blonde and aristocratic as well, seems persistent but genteel. Is he symbolically representing an idealized “portrait” of Lorenzo de’ Medici? Let’s not forget that the leader of the Florentine privileged society saw himself as the forceful god Apollo and had adopted the laurel as part of his personal emblem. The background landscape scene is definitely presenting the Tuscan countryside with the Arno river valley and the distant vista of the city of Florence itself. The painting may be small in size, but Piero del Pollaiuolo realized a small treasure, to “be admired close up by an educated patron.”     https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/piero-del-pollaiuolo-apollo-and-daphne

If you please… access a PowerPoint with artwork depicting the Myth of Apollo and Daphne HERE!

For a Student Activity on the Myth of Apollo and Daphne, please… check HERE!

A Bulletin Board with Elementary School level Activities on Plants and Myths, very popular among my students.