The Loves of the Gods (Carracci)  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Renaissance erotica, The Loves of the Gods

The Loves of the Gods (also called the Farnese Gallery) is a massive fresco cycle by Annibale Carracci and his studio in the Palazzo Farnese (now the French Embassy) in Rome, completed in 1608. The fresco series was greatly admired in its time, and was later felt to reflect a change in aesthetic in Rome from Mannerism to Baroque.

Contents

Production

Cardinal Odoardo Farnese, Pope Paul III's nephew, commissioned Annibale and his crew to decorate the barrel-vaulted gallery in the piano nobile of the family palace. Work was started in 1597 and ended in 1608. The studio involved were led by Annibale, and later briefly his brother Agostino, included a number of significant artists, such as Francesco Albani, Guido Reni, Domenichino, and Sisto Badalocchio. The Farnese Gallery [1] consists of profusely decorated quadratura and framed mythologic scenes.

Scheme

Annibale had first decorated a small room (the Camerino) in the Palazzo with scenes from the life of Hercules, likely to enhance the viewing of the famed Roman statue of the Farnese Hercules. In 1597, he began to decorate the gallery with mythological themes set within frames painted on an illusionistic architectural framework (quadratura)[2]. Ignudi, putti, and herms (male caryatid figures) hold up the painted framework. Bellori, a noted art critic of the next generation called it "Human Love Governed by Celestial Love".

In the center panel, the Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne depicts a both riotous and classically restrained procession which ferries Bacchus and Ariadne to their lovers' bed. Here, the underlying myth is that Bacchus, the god of wine, had gained the love of the abandoned princess, Ariadne. In the Republican and Imperial Roman era, triumphs were parades by victorious leaders, wherein a laureled-crowned imperator was led by a white chariot led by two white horses. The two lovers are led by chariots drawn by tigers [3] and a parade of nymphs, bacchanti, and trumpeting satyrs. At the fore, Bacchus' tutor, the paunchy, ugly, and leering drunk Silenus, rides an ass. The figures carefully cavort in order to hide most naked male genitals. The program may refer to Ovid's Metamorphosis (VIII; lines 160-182) or a trifling carnival song-poem written by Lorenzo de Medici in about 1475, that entreats: [4]

Quest’è Bacco ed Arïanna, Here are Bacchus and Ariadne,
belli, e l’un de l’altro ardenti: Handsome, and burning for each other:
perché ’l tempo fugge e inganna, Because time flees and fools,
sempre insieme stan contenti. They stay together always content.
Queste ninfe ed altre genti These nymphs and other gents
sono allegre tuttavia. Are ever full of joy.
Chi vuol esser lieto, sia: Let those who wish to be happy, be:
di doman non c’è certezza. Of tomorrow, we have no certainty.

The painter's cousin Ludovico Carracci engraved uncensored versions in prints of the scenes. Also in contrast to the ceiling's intimation rather than outright depiction of mythological lovemaking are erotic engravings by the painter's brother Agostino - the I Modi.

Critical Assessment and Legacy

After completing the Farnese frescoes, Annibale reportedly entered a long depression, and none of his subsequent works were considered as noteworthy. His influence for the future aesthetic of the fresco would be powerful. The density of figures would fuel debates in the next generation of fresco painters, Sacchi and Cortona; clearly, as this fresco indicates, Carracci's effervescent manner influenced Cortona.

Carracci, in his day, was seen as one of the painters that revived the classical style. Rebellious artists such as Caravaggio and his followers would in few years abandon the sunny background, and the representation of mythology in their art. But it would be inappropriate to view Carracci as solely the continuation of an inherited tradition; in his day, his vigorous and dynamic style, and that of his trainees, changed the pre-eminent aesthetic of Rome. His work would have been seen as liberating for artists of his day, touching on pagan themes with an unconstrained joy. It could be said that while Mannerism had mastered the art of formal strained contraposto and contorsion; Carracci had depicted dance and joy.

Neoclassic formalism and severity frowned on the excesses of Carracci; but in his day, he would have been seen as masterful, as the supreme approximation to classic beauty. Carracci painted in the tradition of Raphael and Giulio Romano's secular Galatea frescoes in the Loggia of the Villa Farnesina. Unlike Raphael though, they display a Michelangelo-esque muscularity, and depart from the often emotionless visages of High Renaissance painting. Finally, it has been said that Carracci and his school blended Venetian colorism with the Florentine-Umbrian attention to drawing and design; yet this is best seen in the oil canvases rather than frescoes in the Farnese, which required for Carracci and intensive degree of drawn preplaning and attention, much of which still exists.

Thomas Hoving, later director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wrote his PhD on the cycle, pointing out many correspondences between the frescoes and items in the famous Farnese collection of Roman sculpture, much of which was then housed in the gallery (it is now in Naples, mostly in the Museo di Capodimonte). His suggestion that many details of the fresoes were designed to compliment the marbles below has been generally accepted.

Panels of Farnese Ceiling

  • Central Ceiling Fresco
    Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne
  • Ceiling Scenes
    Jupiter and Juno
    Diana and Endymion
    Hercules and Iole
    Venus and Anchise (father of Aeneas) (GENVS VNDE LATINVM)
    Medallion with Apollo and Marsyas'
    Medallion with Cupid and Pan'
    Medallion with Boreas and Orithyia'
    Medallion with orpheus and Euridice'
    Medallion with Pan and Syrinx'
    Medallion with Salmacis and Hermaphroditus'
    Medallion with Europa and the Bull (Jupiter)'
    Medallion with Hero and Leander'
    Medallion with a scene of abduction
    Medallion with Jason and the Golden Fleece'
    Medallion with Paris'
    Medallion with Pan'
    Aurora and Cephalus
    Venus and Tritone, a.k.a Glaucus and Scylla
    Polyphemus Innamorato
    Polyphemus Furioso
    The Rape of Ganymede by Jupiter's Eagle and satyrs
    Apollo and Hyacinthus
    Pan and Diana
    Mercury and Paris
    Apollo and Hyacinthus
    Ganymede and the Eagle
    Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne
  • Wall Scenes
    Fortitude
    Temperance
    Justice
    Charity
    Perseus and Andromeda
    Combat of Perseus and Phineas (turning followers to stone using the head of Medusa)
    Impresa of Cardinal Alessandro Farnese
    Impresa of the Duke Alessandro Farnese
    Impresa of Cardinal Odoardo Farnese
    Impresa of the Duke Ranuccio Farnese
    Virgin with the Unicorn
    Dedalus and Icarus
    Diana and Callisto
    Metamorphosis of Callisto into a Bear
    Mercury and Apollo
    Arion the Citharist is rescued by Dolphins
    Minerva and Prometheus
    Hercules slays the Dragon
    Hercules liberates Prometheus




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