Farnese ceiling, Palazzo Farnese, Rome


Farnese ceiling, Palazzo Farnese, Rome
(c. 1597-1600)
   Commissioned by Cardinal Odoardo Farnese from Annibale Carracci for his newly built Palazzo Farnese in Rome. The subject of the Farnese ceiling is the loves of the gods, the inspiration for its overall arrangement being Michelangelo's Sistine ceiling (1508-1512; Vatican). As in the prototype, the Farnese ceiling consists of a painted architectural framework or quadratura that divides the scenes into three coherent bands and includes nude figures and medallions. The work was meant to harmonize as well with Raphael's mythological frescoes (1513-1518) in the Villa Farnesina across the Tiber River, by now also owned by the Farnese family. Using a quadro riportato technique, the artist placed the Triumph of Bacchus in the center. It shows the god of wine and his consort, Ariadne, in procession with bacchants and satyrs around them in a frenzied revelry. Following Giovan Pietro Bellori's interpretation, the image is seen as a Neoplatonic allegory of divine love triumphing over its earthly counterpart. Among the most notable secondary scenes are Venus and Anchises and Polyphemus and Galatea. The first is accompanied by an inscription that reads "this was the beginning of Rome," referring to the birth of Aeneas, founder of the Latin race, from their union. The scene is eroticized by Anchises' removal of the goddess' sandal and her Venus Pudica pose that indicates her hesitancy to give in to the advances of a mere mortal. In Polyphemus and Galatea, the theme is unrequited love as the nymph ridicules the Cyclops for wooing her. Because Galatea loves Acis, Polyphemus kills his contender with a rock, a scene also frescoed on the ceiling. Other scenes include Cephalus and Aurora, which is believed to have been executed by Agostino Carracci who assisted Annibale; Diana and Pan; Hercules and Iole; Dedalus and Icarus; Diana and Callisto; Mercury and Apollo; and Arion and the Dolphin.
   The Farnese ceiling is one of the greatest masterpieces of the early Baroque era. As part of the decorations of a cardinal's palace, its blatant sensuality has prompted intense discussion among scholars regarding the frescoes' intended meaning. The ceiling was already recognized as a masterpiece during Annibale's lifetime and wielded tremendous influence on artists active in the 17th century. Both Aurora ceilings by Guido Reni (1613; Rome, Casino Rospigliosi) and Guercino (1621; Rome, Casino Ludovisi) owe their compositions to Annibale's work.

Historical dictionary of Renaissance art. . 2008.

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