The Myth of Apollo and Marsyas in Italian Renaissance Art: An Inquiry Into the Meaning of Images

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University of Delaware Press, 1996 - Art - 182 pages
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Titian's great late painting of Apollo and Marsyas has been included in several recent exhibitions of Venetian painting in Europe and the United States. In this study, art historian Edith Wyss sheds light on the perception of the theme in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Renaissance artists knew several outstanding antique sculptures representing the myth and drew often on these prestigious models for inspiration. Only from the third decade of the sixteenth century onward did autonomous artistic interpretations of the myth assert themselves. Among the artists who devoted their skills to this myth are Perugino, Raphael, and several of his followers - Giulio Romano, Parmigianino, Bronzino, Salviati, Tintoretto, and Titian. Wyss demonstrates that some depictions encode messages that transcend the obvious exhortation against pride. Taking their cue from a popular edition of the Metamorphoses, some patrons and artists viewed the myth as an allegory of the revelation of truth. Others, following Pythagorean teachings, perceived the sun god's lyre music as the music of the spheres. In this perception, Apollo's victory assures the continued harmonious functioning of the universe, and Marsyas's defiance of the sun god's authority called for the severest retribution. In a few instances the author demonstrates that the Pythagorean allegorical reading of the myth was borrowed for political ends, with Apollo's victorious lyre standing as metaphor for the supposedly harmonious government of the ruling power. The discussion allows the Marsyas myth to unfold in a theme of extraordinary richness and depth and touches on issues that were at the core of the Renaissance culture.

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