The Nymph’s Apotheosis and The Birth of a Goddess


“Raphael did not mean for Galatea to resemble any one human person, but to represent ideal beauty.”

Giorgio Vasari

 
 

Il Trionfo di Galatea (The Triumph of Galatea), Raphael, c. 1514

 
 

The fresco is a mythological scene of a series embellishing the open gallery of the building, a series never completed which was inspired to the Stanze per la giostra of the poet Angelo Poliziano.

According to Ovid‘s Metamorphoses, Acis was the son of Faunus and the river-nymph Symaethis, daughter of the River Symaethus. His version of the tale occurs nowhere earlier and may be a fiction invented by him, “suggested by the manner in which the little river springs forth from under a rock”. According to Athenaeus, ca 200 CE the story was first concocted as a political satire against the Sicilian tyrant Dionysius I of Syracuse, whose favourite concubine, Galatea, shared her name with a nereid mentioned by Homer. Others claim the story was invented to explain the presence of a shrine dedicated to Galatea on Mount Etna.

Raphael did not paint any of the main events of the story. When asked where he had found a model of such beauty, Raphael reportedly said that he had used “a certain idea” he had formed in his mind. He chose the scene of the nymph’s apotheosis (Stanze, I, 118-119). Galatea appears surrounded by other sea creatures whose forms are somewhat inspired by Michelangelo Buonarroti, whereas the bright colors and decoration are supposed to be inspired by ancient Roman painting. At the left, a Triton (partly man, partly fish) abducts a sea nymph; behind them, another Triton uses a shell as a trumpet. Galatea rides a shell-chariot drawn by two dolphins.

 
 

La Naissance de Vénus, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1879.

 
 

The subject matter, as well as the composition, resembles a previous rendition of Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, as well as Raphael’s The Triumph of Galatea.

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