Allegorizing choice: the Apollo Flaying Marsyas Myth in a religious context.
Although there is no direct evidence that seventeenth-century painters actually read Anguillara's text, its popularity and availability make it reasonable to assume they would have been familiar with it. Artists commissioned to depict scenes from Ovid's Metamorphoses would surely have consulted one of its numerous editions. Modern scholars have demonstrated the influence of Anguillara's Ovid on Annibale Carracci's Perseus and Andromeda (Dempsey 95) and Nicholas Poussin's The Realm of Flora (Worthen 579-85; Thomas 227-30). It is, however, possible to find additional subsequent oblique references to Anguillara's text--such as the two versions of Apollo Flaying Marsyas by the seventeenth-century painters Domenichino and Guercino. Focusing on these two works, this essay suggests a new reading of them through Anguillara's religious insinuations.
Both artworks share a deviation from the traditional iconography with the inclusion of shepherds depicted as a separate group in the composition. The inclusion of shepherds is certainly original for that specific scene. (3) Although their addition can be seen as simply a conventional device meant to help the viewer enter the scene, they might have another role as well: The paintings are depictions not simply of a god punishing a satyr but of shepherds watching a god punishing a satyr. And their presence may add another layer of meaning to the traditional understanding of this scene. These paintings were completed at the dawn of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants, known today as the Thirty Years' War (1618-48), when religious motives still dominated the turn of the war's events. So a contextual religious dimension in addition to what traditionally had a moral intention would fit the zeitgeist of the time.
Domenichino executed his version (Fig. 1) in 1617, and Guercino completed his a year later. (4) Domenichino had been asked by the powerful Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, a nephew of the late Pope Clement VIII, to decorate the Sala del Parnaso in the garden pavilion of his Villa del Belvedere in Frascati with ten scenes from the life of Apollo. (5) Today, only two and a half frescoes remain in situ; the others, including Apollo Flaying Marsyas, are in the National Gallery, London. (6) Apollo Flaying Marsyas was the most important painting among the ten decorations. Richard Spear has suggested that it was the first painting of the cycle made by Domenichino (h 197). (7) Its importance lies also in its position above the exit from the hall. This was the last painting the visitor saw before leaving, and it came after he had been impressed on his way in by the large niche opposite the entrance, with its fountain pool and the surrounding statues of Apollo, the Muses, and Pegasus. (8) Standing with his back to the fountain on his way out and hearing the sound of the water while gazing at the Apollo Flaying Marsyas scene, the viewer might have been reminded of the River Marsyas and thus of the tragic fate of the one after whom it was named. The garden pavilion consists of six rooms in all, the Sala del Parnaso being the last room on the right and the counterpart of the St. Sebastian Chapel on the far left. This juxtaposition of the two main chambers, in a neo-Platonist configuration, may lend additional support to a religious interpretation of Domenichino's painting.
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Domenichino's painting constitutes only one part of a cycle. The other paintings are not discussed here since this study concerns the way a seventeenth-century audience understood the story of Apollo and Marsyas in a religious context rather than providing an overall interpretation of the Frascati cycle. However, Ronald Martin Steinberg, in his discussion on the iconography of the Teatro dell'Acqua, remarked that the Apollo Flaying Marsyas situated above the entrance door "states the iconographic scheme of the room clearly" (461). In other scenes from the life of Apollo, however, one may find analogies to Christian vice and virtue. A justification for singling out one scene and an indication of how a seventeenth-century viewer might have perceived a mythological scene in a religious context may be found in the writing of the Italian art theorist and biographer of artists Giovanni Pietro Bellori (1613-1696). In his 1672 Lives of the Modern Painters Bellori describes each division of Annibale Carracci's cycle in the Galleria Farnese, indicating the moral of each scene from a religious point of departure. For instance, in describing the painting of Perseus and the Medusa Bellori clearly alludes to religious perceptions of virtue and vice as he finds in Medusa a symbol of vice and Perseus the rational mind; he observes: "Men who fix their eyes upon vice without judgment grow dull and turn to stone" (81). In regard to Annibale's Apollo Flaying Marsyas Bellori writes that Apollo is "standing for the light of wisdom that strips the soul of its ferine skin" (92). He theorizes on three ways Annibale used allegory: "first, in comparing virtue with vice; second, in presenting the value of virtue alone; third, in presenting the harmfulness of vice alone" (82). This perception is also applicable to Domenichino's painting.
Guercino, a younger fellow countryman of Domenichino who was working in Bologna, produced a painting of the same scene for the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo II de' Medici. As noted by Sir Denis Mahon (Il Guercino 67-68), Guercino's Apollo Flaying Marsyas (Fig. 2) was first recorded in an inventory of Florence's Palazzo Pitti dating to 1638 and is there today. (9)
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In his Metamorphoses, Ovid recounts the tale of Marsyas, a satyr who dares to compete with Apollo in making music (6: 382-400). When Marsyas loses, Apollo punishes the satyr by skinning him alive because Marsyas had the audacity to consider himself better than a god. Marsyas protests against this harsh punishment and asks to be forgiven. The tale ends with the mourning of his brother satyrs, the fauns, the nymphs and Olympus, Marsyas's companion. (10)
Anguillara, in his rhymed version, broadened the story of Apollo's musical contest with Marsyas. (11) To the main focus of the just punishment for a grave crime, Anguillara added a more contemplative approach that centered on what the right reaction should be once a crime has been committed. The moral paradigm of crime and punishment was extended to include a religious explanation of the importance of making the right choice after a sin has been committed to mitigate punishment in the hereafter. In so doing, Anguillara introduced a religious concept that had been at the heart of the dispute between Catholics and Protestants since the emergence of Protestantism in the first half of that century--free will. (12)
In the passage focusing on Marsyas's musical contest with Apollo, Anguillara describes Marsyas's determination to compete with Apollo and how assiduously Apollo tried to put off this impossible competition to avoid being compelled to punish his challenger. (13) On at least three occasions Apollo warned Marsyas to drop his insistence on competing and tried to persuade him to give up his evil ways, promising that if he showed humility and repentance (umil cor come ti penti) instead of pride, he would be forgiven. (14) But Marsyas would not heed Apollo's warnings; he was unwilling to give up his claim that he could make better music than the god, and he thereby was guilty of the deadly sin of pride. (15) Even after the contest was over, the fearless Marsyas did not yield to the punishment meted out to him but argued against its severity; instead of regret, the satyr showed impertinence. (16) Unable to overlook Marsyas's blasphemy, Apollo was obliged to carry out the punishment. Anguillara perceives Apollo as analogous to Christ, acknowledging Apollo's regret at being forced to punish Marsyas. (17)
Into his tale of Apollo and Marsyas, Anguillara has insinuated the very important religious concept of free will as manifested in post-Trent theological texts. This concept can be seen, for instance, in the writings of Cardinal Roberto Bellarmino (1542-1621), one of the greatest minds of seventeenth-century theology, who had significant influence in his time. In his De Ascensione Mentis, written in 1615, a few years before Domenichino and Guercino depicted their Apollo Flaying Marsyas, Bellarmino focused on free will as a gift from God that distinguishes humans from all other living creatures. The freedom to choose is what connects humanity to God and the angels. However, although each individual has the capacity to determine whether to be righteous or sinful human weakness prevents the fulfillment of divine expectations (136-37). Bellarmino makes clear a man will therefore sin throughout life, but he needs to repent his sins before he dies; it is not the choice to sin or not to sin that is most important, but the choice to renounce sin and do penance. That is what free will is all about (205; 322-23).
Bellarmino articulates the connection between free will, sin, the unwillingness to acknowledge the sin, and death. The link is also apparent in Anguillara's description of the Apollo versus Marsyas musical contest. Even after committing his sin, Marsyas was not ready to admit it, and that is why he was judged so severely. To be saved, one must renounce one's sins while still alive, otherwise be forever doomed.
Death as the result of a grave sin was perceived to be the worst type of death. In his essay on the positive aspects of death, the fourth-century church father St. Ambrose distinguishes among various types of deaths: death resulting from sin; mystical death, which implies the inability to sin, a trait characteristic of saints; and natural death, in which the soul departs from the human body (71). In the seventeenth century St. Ambrose's essay was not only known to the clergy but also won a certain degree of general popularity. The Bolognese abbot Don Antonio Mirandola, a benefactor and influential supporter of the young Guercino, for example, frequently quoted St. Ambrose in his book on death, La Gabella della Morte. Constructed as a conversation with Death, Time, and Eternity, the book came out in two editions, in 1630 and 1635. (18) Concerning death resulting from sin, Mirandola made an analogy similar to that of Anguillara but preferred to mention the biblical story of David and Goliath rather than the pagan Apollo and Marsyas. Mirandola emphasized Goliath as an Antichrist who deserved his punishment (38-39).
In his painting Domenichino focused on the most dramatic moment in the story as Apollo is about to begin skinning Marsyas. The scene is set against a classical Roman landscape with an aqueduct in the distance. Apart from the main protagonists, Apollo and Marsyas, five additional figures are depicted; four of them surround Marsyas, toward whom Apollo is leaning; the fifth, a shepherd with his staff, is to the right, slightly distanced from the main group. (19)
Guercino, like Domenichino, chose to render the climactic moment at which Apollo is about to begin his gory work. Like Domenichino, he divided his characters into two groups: Apollo and Marsyas are at the center; a secondary group on the left consists of two shepherds. That the shepherds were an integral part of Guercino's composition can be learned from two full-length compositional drawings, which show his ideas regarding the overall conception of the painting. In one of the drawings (Fig. 3), the face of one shepherd is visible on the right. In a second drawing (Fig. 4), the painter has placed two shepherds on the other side, where they will eventually be placed in the final version. (20)
Both presentations relate to the same iconographical tradition, with Marsyas tied to a tree and Apollo about to begin his cruel punishment. Yet both painters have departed from the traditional way this scene had been rendered previously, in that they have added a shepherd element and placed it apart from the main group. Guercino and Domenichino's common choice to add a shepherd element is even more remarkable, given that no evidence has come to light that either was influenced by the other. Although the two painters were contemporaries and came from similar artistic and geographic backgrounds, neither could have seen the other's painting before completing his own. (21) Domenichino apparently finished his painting in 1617, predating Guercino's; and Guercino could have seen Domenichino's completed work only after 1621--that is, only after completing his own, because Domenichino's was done in Frascati prior to Guercino leaving Emilia Romagna in 1621.
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The insertion of additional figures into the scene of Apollo Flaying marsyas was common prior to Domenichino's and Guercino's depictions, but none were shepherds. The additional figures were intended to complement the main protagonists, both in action and in meaning. Three examples, by three of the most celebrated artists of their time, illustrate this perfectly. Raphael, Titian, and Annibale Carracci--each of whom, particularly Carracci, had a tremendous impact on seventeenth-century painting and especially on Domenichino and Guercino--were all commissioned to portray this scene, and each included different secondary figures. Raphael's and Carracci's depictions, like that of Domenichino, were frescoes and parts of a cycle: Raphael's on the vault of the Stanza della Segnatura and Carracci's on the vault of the Galleria Farnese. Titian's, like Guercino's, is an oil painting on canvas, standing on its own.
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Raphael depicted Apollo and Marsyas (Fig. 5) together with two additional figures: the executioner--for in his version, Apollo does not perform the grisly task--and a youth. Titian (Fig. 6) added an executioner, a violin player, whom Fehl identified as Ovid (Decorum and Wit 144), Midas, perhaps a self-portrait (Neumann 19), a satyr, a child, and two dogs. (22) Annibale Carracci rendered Apollo and Marsyas in a medallion-shaped frame (Fig. 7) in one of the corners of the Galleria Famese vault between depictions of Polyphemus Furioso and Jupiter and Juno. Besides Apollo and Marsyas, one more figure appears in the scene: Olympus, the river god and Marsyas's lover, whose back is to the viewer.
The Raphael, Titian, and Annibale renderings of Apollo Flaying Marsyas show the types of secondary figures that were commonly included in this scene: Olympus, Midas, an executioner, and satyrs. Annibale included Olympus, but he is almost unnoticeable with his back to the scene. Raphael's painting features, apart from Apollo and Marsyas, the executioner and a boy who is crowning Apollo. Titian added five figures: a violin player, Midas, the executioner, a satyr and a boy.
Beyond the traditional moral implications of the story in sixteenth-century versions of the Apollo Flaying Marsyas scene, modern scholarship has proposed a religious message in both Raphael's and Titian's renditions. Konrad Oberhuber wrote that placing Raphael's Apollo Flaying Marsyas alongside the Disputa was meant to illustrate the punishment incurred "when the Divine is not recognized" (95). (23) In Titian's version, Jaromir Neumann sees a Christian analogy in that Marsyas, like St. Peter, met his death upside down. According to Neumann, this analogy reminds the viewer of the martyrdom of St. Peter (11).
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The general religious idea imputed by modern scholars to the theme of Apollo flaying Marsyas should be considered also in Domenichino's and Guercino's versions of the scene, especially since both painters added shepherds to their paintings. The decision to add shepherds as secondary figures should be seen against the perception of shepherds at that time. After all, it is not only the flaying of Marsyas that is depicted in the paintings but also that the shepherds are witnessing the act. A dreadful act of punishment by a god is taking place in front of an audience that needs to determine what their proper reaction should be.
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Standing still, leaning on his staff, Domenichino's shepherd, on the right side, has just become aware of Apollo about to begin flaying Marsyas. His hand is raised and open, in apparent surprise. He can also see the other secondary figures, who are part of the main group. Their various reactions to the punishment of Marsyas, first described by Bellori, give this scene its particular meaning:
Marsyas sits with his arms bound over his head to a tree trunk, and at one side Apollo slits him with his knife to flay him: next to him one nymph laments and pleads out of compassion, and another turns away with her arms out in order not to see, and still others display compassion and horror. (242)
One is praying, another does not want to see what is taking place before her, and the remaining figures are either compassionate or horrified.
In a penitent posture--kneeling, half-undressed, right hand on her breast, head tilted, gaze turned away--the praying female figure between Apollo and Marsyas reacts in a manner that a viewer of the time would have considered positive. She is in agony, as befits a penitent. Her positive reaction might be the reason she is positioned at the center of the painting. An example from Domenichino's oeuvre of a penitent saint depicted in a comparable way appears in his St. Jerome (Fig. 8). The saint is on his knees, half-naked, holding a stone in one hand a crucifix in the other, his head tilted and his glance turned upward.
Two other figures in Domenichino's painting are reacting negatively. On the left, a woman has turned her head away from Apollo and Marsyas and raised her hands to avoid seeing the dreadful act. The satyr who kneels in front of Marsyas with his hands outstretched is the compassionate one. He seems to identify with the victim, who is also a sinner.
The shepherd is the horrified participant. His important role is emphasized not only by his separation from the other figures but also by his stance. He is the only one whose pose is balanced. While the others react to Marsyas's cruel fate with various movements or gestures, only the shepherd is quite still. His motionless stance reveals his emotional state. He represents what Luba Freedman has termed the "immobile shepherd," one who contemplates and ponders the meaning of life (Classical Pastoral 171-77). (24) This may well be what Domenichino tried to present in his depiction: While the other secondary figures have reacted instinctively to the punishment of Marsyas, the shepherd alone finds himself in the predicament of having to make sense of what he sees. In this, the shepherd, to use an Albertian notion, serves as the viewer's admonisher and at the same time represents the viewer. Like the shepherd, the viewer is astounded by the horrible scene; he must also figure out how to react-not an easy task when someone is being flayed alive by one of the gods in plain view. (25)
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In Guercino's painting the shepherds also represent the viewer. To better understand this painting, one should study another work by the same artist that has been considered by Guercino scholars to be related to Apollo Flaying Marsyas; this is Et in Arcadia Ego (Fig. 9), which has a distinctly religious implication. (26) Two shepherds are seen emerging from a forest, exactly like those in the Apollo Flaying Marsyas. Because the same shepherds are depicted in both paintings, Denis Mahon has suggested that the two paintings were completed at the same time (Il Guercino 70), even though Et in Arcadia Ego was first recorded only in 1644 in the inventory of Cardinal Antonio Barberini. (27)
As in Apollo Flaying Marsyas, in Et in Arcadia Ego the shepherds are on the left, with the skull placed on a small brick platform in a comparable position, and the shepherds are gazing at it. A carved inscription on the platform reads: "ET IN ARCADIA EGO." From where they are standing the shepherds cannot read the inscription; it is intended for the viewer (Klein 317; Freedman, Classical Pastoral 116). We are also reminded of death by the mouse gnawing the skull, an accepted symbol of time being eroded by death (Panofsky, "Erasmus" 233). (28) This emphasis on mortality underscores the importance of making right choices, being spiritually prepared before death strikes.
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Judith Bernstock has referred to the iconographic meaning of the two paintings and their relationship to death and to the centrality of death in the writings of Don Antonio Mirandola (150-66). (29) Mirandola urged Christians to contemplate death and to learn from Christ that through death it is possible to reach a life of glory. (30) Remarking upon the halo around Apollo's head in Guercino's Apollo Flaying Marsyas, Bernstock (170) draws a parallel between the flaying of Marsyas and the sacrifice of Jesus--and also links it to the death of saints such as Peter, Andrew, and Bartholomew. (31)
Looking at the two Guercino paintings together provides a clue as to how the painter might have perceived the role of the shepherds in both and how he might have been influenced by Anguillara's version of the Apollo Flaying Marsyas tale. Guercino used the same shepherds and gave them identical placement not because he lacked inventive skills but because he intended the paintings to represent the same idea: first, the punishment of Marsyas, which is a personal death, for it is only he who has sinned; second, death as a universal fate that awaits all. The viewer is reminded there are two ways to conduct one's life: in vice or in virtue. (32) The first will bring one to Marsyas's condition of living and dying as a sinner; the second, the way of Apollo-Christ, the devout Christian way, will lead to redemption and eternal life. (33) Both paintings emphasize free will--the choice to renounce sin and do penance or die as a sinner and be doomed forever.
The uniqueness of the two depictions--Domenichino's and Guercino's--lies in the role of the shepherds. By accentuating the shepherds, the emphasis is diverted from Apollo and Marsyas--the representatives of virtue and vice, respectively--to the shepherds, who represent the beholder. The focus shifts from the actual deed of the virtuous Apollo, who is fulfilling his unpleasant duty of punishing a sinner, to the shepherd/beholder's task of having to decide with whom he wishes to identify. The effect is to induce the viewer to contemplate his own life.
By depicting the shepherd as reacting with surprise to the scene in front of him, Domenichino compels the spectator to make his own choice. The viewer can either sympathize with Marsyas or learn from Marsyas's mistake and ask for absolution. The woman between Apollo and Marsyas is in a conventional penitential posture. The satyr in front of Marsyas is identifying with the latter's pain. The two women behind the satyr attempt to ignore what is going on. Combining the presence of the shepherd with the actual punishment and presenting figures who are reacting in three different ways underscores the idea of free will.
Guercino, too, had free will in mind when he rendered his depiction of Apollo and Marsyas. The real heroes of the scene in his painting are not the god and the satyr but the two shepherds, paralleling Domenichino's single shepherd. Because the punishment had become inevitable and Marsyas was doomed, the story's objective was to serve as an example of what happens to those who, like Marsyas, do not follow the correct path by repenting. The innocent shepherds must draw the necessary conclusions from the punishment of the sinner: that it is better to take the right path, to live and to die as a Christian.
This understanding of both Domenichino's and Guercino's paintings is supplementary to the main meaning intended by the patrons of the works. Both painters were probably fulfilling their patrons' wishes in their respective works. In Domenichino's case, the painter was asked to produce a cycle of scenes from Apollo's life taken from Ovid's Metamorphoses, focusing on Apollo's just deeds. The Flaying of Marsyas looks perfectly in place alongside such scenes as Apollo Killing the Cyclops and Apollo Shying Python, showing Apollo, representing the rational, civilized world, engaged in eliminating the negative, anti-Christian forces in the world. Given that the painting was commissioned by a political figure such as Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, Steinberg posited that the decoration as a whole was intended to stress the cardinal's political achievements and triumphs for the sake of the Catholic Church (461).
According to Luigi Salerno, Monsignor Giovanni Battista Agucchi (1570-1632), one of the formative ideologists of Baroque classicist art theory, (34) was responsible for the iconographic scheme of the Frascati Apollo cycle ("A Domenichino Series" 200). (35) Domenichino and Agucchi had a long and fruitful relationship that lasted for thirty years, until the death of the iconographer in 1632. According to Bellori (241), the painter lived in Agucchi's house soon after his arrival in Rome, a fact confirmed by Richard Spear, who noted that Domenichino came to live with the Agucchi brothers sometime between the end of 1603 and the beginning of 1604 (1:10). It was Agucchi who sent Domenichino to Frascati.
It might have been Agucchi's request to the painter to add shepherds in depicting Apollo's deeds, in order to project an idealized landscape. The monsignor is known to have promoted Arcadian imagery, as evidenced in his Impresa per dipingere l'historia d'Erminia che si racconta nel principio del settimo libro del Godfredo del Tasso, a detailed program meant to instruct artists on the depiction of Erminia's encounter with the old shepherd, one of the pastoral interludes in Torquato Tasso's epic poem Gerusalemme Liberata. In his Impresa, Agucchi dwells on the landscape in great detail; clearly, the landscape was very significant for him. Today it is commonly accepted that Domenichino painted his Erminia and the Shepherds according to Agucchi's Impresa (Whitfield 228; Spear 1:228; Borea 178; Salerno, "A Domenichino Series" 200); the figures are dwarfed by the vast surrounding landscape. The same is true of all Domenichino's Frascati frescoes.
Shepherds "belong" in a classical landscape, especially when a classically oriented iconographer is involved and the subject is mythological; yet, apart from Apollo Flaying Marsyas and one other exception, no shepherds make an appearance in any of the other paintings of the Frascati cycle. That exception is the depiction of Apollo's musical competition with Pan, also described in Ovid's Metamorphoses (11: 157-193), and as Pan was god of the shepherds, their presence seems very natural in that painting. Therefore, the idea of adding a shepherd cannot be attributed to an attempt by the iconographer to make a particular point. Domenichino did not add the shepherd in his Apollo Flaying Marsyas to create an Arcadian atmosphere.
In the case of Guercino's painting, the patron's intention in commissioning this scene is less obvious; this work is not part of a cycle and we do not even know who commissioned it. Our only indication is Malvasia's account suggesting that the painting was done for the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Even if we accept Malvasia's report, it is hard to determine why Cosimo II would have asked the artist to depict this theme. A painting of Apollo and Pan would have been easier to explain in connection with the Grand Duke because Pan means "universal" and the name Cosimo derives from "cosmos." Cosimo II was undoubtedly acquainted with the work of Naldo Naldi who, whenever he mentioned Pan, actually meant Cosimo de' Medici, the founder of the Medici dynasty. (36) Following a suggestion made by Edith Wyss that it was not uncommon at the time to confuse the story of Marsyas with the story of Pan, one might be tempted to think that Guercino confused Pan with Marsyas; after all, Pan also had a musical competition against Apollo. But militating against that conjecture is the difference in outcomes: Apollo did not have to punish Pan, because the latter had the good sense to admit Apollo's superiority; Midas was the only one not to accept it, and Apollo punished the king by making him sprout donkey's ears (Wyss 34).
That Pietro Aldobrandini and Cosimo II de' Medici, respectively, commissioned Domenichino and Guercino to depict the same scene at almost the same time could be a coincidence. However, that both painters put shepherds into their paintings but distanced them from the main group in each case should not be considered mere happenstance. Rather, it points to a common understanding and intention arrived at separately by the two painters but deriving from the influence of Anguillara. Living under papal rule at a time when militant Catholicism predominated and was paving the way toward a religious confrontation with the Protestants, it is little wonder that people in the papal state were inclined to such religious ideas as those introduced by Anguillara in his recreation of the musical contest between Apollo and Marsyas. (37)
Whatever the patrons' purposes in commissioning the subject, the way in which Domenichino and Guercino added the shepherd element suggests that both artists were trying to add a further layer of meaning to their paintings beyond the traditional and moral understanding of the scene.
What comes to mind here is Hans Belting's definition of the Italian consideration of a religious painting. Belting contended that the difference between a religious work of art and a secular one lay not in the scene portrayed but in the way it was perceived and understood by the viewers: "People did not experience two kinds of images, but images with a double face, depending on whether they were seen as receptacles of the holy or as expressions of art" (458). Apart from the simple representation taken from a literary source, one can identify additional meanings that coincide with the aims and beliefs of the artist and his audience. In other words, the meaning and reception of a work of art are related to its audience. The social, moral, religious, and historical background is to be taken into consideration when trying to comprehend the layers of meaning in an artwork. Ernst Gombrich, who tried to define the limits of interpretation by attributing the meaning of a work of art to the genre to which the painting belongs, admitted that the meaning of a scene depends on the beholder; different people will understand the same work in different ways. "Icarus, for instance," writes Gombrich, "does not have one meaning but a whole range of meaning, which in its turn is then determined by the context" (8).
The historical context of these two paintings is the religious war that was about to break out, the militant religious atmosphere in the papal state around 1617-18, when Cardinal Alessandro Ludovisi, one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the confrontation with the Protestants, was Bologna's archbishop. Both artists followed Cardinal Ludovisi to Rome after he became Pope Gregory XV a few years later, in 1621. Both painters belonged to the same artistic tradition and to the same social milieu--they were religious people adhering to the tenets of the reformed Catholic Church. Moreover, both were influenced by the same literary source--Anguillara.
Given these common factors, we can reasonably conclude that the two painters understood the tale of Apollo and Marsyas in the same way and tried to convey its religious message similarly. The inclusion of shepherds as observers of the macabre scene of Apollo flaying Marsyas in Domenichino's and Guercino's paintings transforms the scenes from straightforward depictions of the deed into thought-provoking comments on the actions of the protagonists. The shepherds' contemplative mode conveys a religious message regarding the Catholic dogma of free will. Domenichino and Guercino were probably focusing on the main goal of their powerful patrons in commissioning the paintings. And both painters were no doubts aware of the particular significance of the scene as a manifestation of the Catholic dogma of free will. They could not have escaped the collective cultural-religious understanding as perceived at the beginning of the seventeenth century and as described by Anguillara at the time of the outbreak of the Thirty Years' War.
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This article is dedicated to the memory of Philipp Fehl, a great art historian and a devoted teacher. I would like to thank Dror Wahrman, Guy Tal and the anonymous readers of EIRC for their valuable suggestions.
(1) For Anguillara's life and successful career, see Mutini 3: 306-09; Nouvelle Biographie 2: 673-74.
(2) For Vasari's comment, see also Pallen 83 and Johnson 31.
(3) Prior to Domenichino's and Guercino's depictions, shepherds are sometimes present in the competition scene but never the punishment scene. Innocenzo da Imola's fresco (1541-1543), which Domenichino and Guercino could have seen in the Palazzina della Viola in Bologna, includes two scenes depicting Apollo's musical contest with Marsyas: The competition is at the center of the painting, the punishment on the right. Shepherds are included as part of the group participating in the musical competition; in the punishment scene, Apollo and Marsyas are alone, with no secondary figures around them.
(4) Domenichino's cycle was completed between 1616 and 1618. For this dating, see D'Onofrio 136-139; Borea 152; Spear 1: 197. Salerno dates the painting to 1605 ("A Domenichino Series" 200); Voss thinks it was done in 1608 (1:199). For Guercino, see Mahon, Il Gercino cat. No. 29; Salerno, I dipinti cat. No. 47.
(5) For seventeenth-century commentary on the commission, see Baglione 384; Scannelli 355; Passeri 12-13; Bellori 242; Malvasia 2: 223. For the documentation, see D'Onofrio, 136-139.
(6) The in situ scenes are Apollo Slaying the Serpent Python, The Transformation of C yparissus (only the upper, smaller portion), and The Head and Lyre of Orpheus Thrown into the River Ebro. The scenes in the National Gallery are Apollo Killing the Cyclops, The Punishment of Midas by Apollo, Apollo and Daphne, The Transformation of Cyparissus (only the lower, larger portion), Mercury Stealing the Herds of Admetus Guarded by Apollo, Apollo Slaying the Nymph Coronus, and Apollo and Neptune with Laomedon. See Salerno, A Domenichino Serie at the National Gallery 200-04; Spear 1: 195-201.
(7) According to Spear, it was completed before the artist returned to Bologna at the end of 1617.
(8) This linkage between the two scenes, Apollo Flaying Marsyas and Apollo and the Muses, was first applied by Raphael in the Stanza della Segnatura. Raphael depicted the Flaying of Marsyas in a medallion format on the ceiling, between his Parnassus wall and the Disputa, the religious implications of which are noted below.
(9) "Per l' A. S. Del G. Duca di Toscana un Marsia scorticato da Apollo." Malvasia 2: 259.
(10) See also a reference to the Marsyas story in Ovid, Fasti 6: 703-10.
(11) See Wyss 121. For further elaborations by Anguillara and the Renaissance tradition of a moralizied Ovid, see Thomas 232.
(12) For sixteenth-century commentary on free will, see the views of Erasmus and Luther in Davis 83-123. On predestination, see James 29. On free will in the seventeenth century, see Garrigou-Lagrange 153-62.
Quanto ad Apollo il suon di Marsia aggrada, Tanto gli spiace il suo soverchio orgoglio; E disse a lui: La tua virtu si rada Fa ch'ammonir d'un grand error ti voglio. D'aver biasmati i miei piu dolci accenti: Ch'io giuro per quell' acqua che mi sorza, Che, s'ostinato stai nel tuo pensiero, Con dir, che l'arte tua sia di pith forza, Tal dar castigo al tuo parlare altero; Che vedrai'l corpo tuo star senza scorza. (Anguillara 186).
Ma quando ti ravvegga, e dice il vero, E che del fallo tuo cerchi perdono; Io vu6 giugner dolcezza al tuo bel suono. Non vorrei dal tuo orgoglio esser costretto Far perir l'arte tua, che al mondo e sola; E quando di sentirmi abbi diletro, Fa diventar umil la tua parola. (Anguillara 186). See also Wyss 121.
(15) In Catholic thought, pride is seen as the worst transgression because it brought Eve to commit the Original Sin. See Delumeau 25.
(16) Deh, Marsia allhor dicea, deh non e tanto / L'error, ch'io sei, che merti si gran pena (Anguillara 186).
(17) Che'l Fauno e vinto, e vincitor lo Dio E'l capo gli adornar di nova fronde. Romper non posso il giuramento ch'io Pur dianzi fei per l'osservabili onde; Disse lo Dio pentito e un ferro prende Che privar de la pelle il vinto intende. (Anguillara 186). Marsyas was perceived in this period as a negative, anti-religious figure, while Apollo represented faith. See Reynolds 210.
(18) The frontispiece of the book was engraved by Francesco Curti after a Guercino drawing entitled: With the Passing of Time and the Coming of Death Man Discovers the Vanity of Earthly Wealth. On the drawing, see Bagni 93; Mahon and Turner 48.
(19) According to Spear, this last figure was added by an assistant (1: 197). Still, a preparatory drawing by Domenichino of that same figure in the royal collection at Windsor Castle clarifies that even if it was not Domenichino's hand that depicted the shepherd, it was his intention. For the preparatory drawing, see Pope-Hennessy cat. no. 1112.
(20) Guercino used drawings as a preliminary process of design; they helped him to explore a variety of ideas and clarify his conceptions in his own mind. On Guercino's methods, see Stone xxi-xxv.
(21) Both painters are considered today as belonging to the Bolognese school of painting. Domenichino was born in Bologna and lived there until he came to Rome at the beginning of the seventeenth century. It is quite clear that Guercino, who was born in Cento, a little town between Bologna and Ferrara, was already in Bologna in 1617. This is evident from two letters written by Ludovico Carracci to Don Ferrante Carlo, secretary to Cardinal Scipione Borghese. In the next four years he divided his time between Bologna, Cento and Ferrara. In 1618, the year in which Guercino, according to Malvasia, made his Apollo Flaying Marsyas, he traveled to Venice and Mantua. In 1619 he was working for Cardinal Serra in Ferrara, and by 1620 he was back in Bologna, where he made his magnificent altarpiece for the Locatelli Chapel. In 1621 Guercino was summoned to Rome by the newly elected pope Gregory XV. After his return from Rome in 1623 and until 1642 he lived in Cento but received many commissions from Bolognese patrons. In 1642 he settled in Bologna and remained in that city for the rest of his life. Guercino's encounter with Bolognese painting began while still in Cento. When he took his first steps as a painter in Cento, in the first decade of the seventeenth century, he must have been familiar with Ludovico Carracci's two works there: Conversion of St. Paul of 1587-1589 and Holy Family with St. Francis and Donors of 1591. Malvasia writes in his Felsina Pittrice that as early as 1612, the Bolognese priest Don Antonio Mirandola tried to bring Guercino's talent to the attention of the public of Bologna. For Domenichino's biography, see Bellori, The Lives of the Modern Painters 239-40; Malvasia 2: 219-21. For Ludovico Carracci's letters, see Perini 140-41. For Guercino's connections to Bologna before his sojourn in Rome, see Malvasia 2: 257-60; Mahon, "Notes" 112-22.
(22) Completed around 1570 and identified as Titian's last mythological work (Tietze 53), this version is probably the most complex of the paintings on this subject and has received much scholarly attention. Marsyas's demeanor is very quiet, something that led Fehl to comment that the artist must have identified with the victim (Decorum and Wit 140). Fehl focused on the contrast between Marsyas's posture and the harshness of the punishment, and on the hero of the tale being the executioner. Wind pointed to an interesting identification with Marsyas, recalling Dante's prayer to Apollo in which he requests similar treatment to that meted out to the satyr: "Enter my breast, and so infuse me with your spirit as you did Marsyas when you tore him from the cover of his limbs" (144).
(23) For another discussion of this painting, see Freedman, "Apollo's Glance." For other interpretations, see Fehl, Decorum and Wit 135.
(24) Domenichino's immobile shepherd is derived from classical precedents. In assuming a classical source of influence on Domenichino, one does not go beyond the common wisdom in modern research about the painter and his time. Fehl has pointed out three visual sources that could have influenced Domenichino. The similarity between Domenichino's shepherd and Fehl's three examples is in the cross-legged stance. Another possible visual source of influence for Domenichino's shepherd could be the immobile shepherds on the so-called Endymion sarcophagi. One of these sarcophagi, today on display in the Palazzo Doria Pamphilj in Rome, could have been seen by Domenichino in the Mausoleum of Augustus in Rome, where it is known to have been in the seventeenth century. On its narrow facet, on the right, a shepherd stands between a tree and his dog. He resembles Domenichino's shepherd in that each leans on his staff with legs crossed; there is even a resemblance in their tunics. The shepherds differ in their hand gestures: Domenichino's leans with his right hand on the staff while his left hand is open, manifesting surprise. The shepherd on the sarcophagus leans with his right elbow on his left hand, which is holding the staff; his right hand is on his cheek, in a reflective pose. On Domenichino's classicism, see Spear 1: 56-60;. for Domenichino's classical sources for his shepherd, Fehl, Decorum and Wit 374 n. 42; Bieber figs. 62, 86; Dosio fig. 184, pl. 106; for additional visual representations of the immobile shepherd, Freedman, The Classical Pastoral fig. 62; Gerke figs, 18, 31; Bovini fig. 92; for the location of the sarcophagus in the seventeenth century, Calza cat. no. 181.
(25) Alberti wrote: "In an istoria I like to see someone who admonishes and points out to us what is happening there" (78).
(26) Much has been written on Et in Arcadia Ego, a rare theme; it was depicted only twice more in the seventeenth century, both times by Nicholas Poussin, with whose name the subject is inevitably linked in the literature. A debate over the interpretation of the paintings by the two artists was conducted in the 1930s by Panofsky ("Et in Arcadia Ego" 239), Weisbach (287-95), Klein (317), and Blunt (96-99). The debate was about the meaning of Poussin's two works. Regarding Guercino's work, the scholars agreed on the religious meaning and its connection with the traditional memento mori.
(27) The first to link these two works, Mahon raised the possibility that they were executed simultaneously, the work on Arcadia serving as a kind of sketch for Apollo Flaying Marsyas. This hypothesis is based partly on the former being much smaller than the latter. Only after completing the larger work did Guercino finish the other, adding the skull and the inscription underneath it. Drawing on Panofsky's interpretation, Mahon considered the skull as a memento mori--a reminder to the Christian believer of his inevitable death. See Panofsky, "Et in Arcadia Ego" 233. For the Et in Arcadia Ego in the possession of the Barberini, see Vivian 22; Aronberg Lavin 168.
(28) Panofsky's interpretation is compatible with Guercino's illustration for Mirandola's book, which also links time and death.
(29) On Bernstock's article, see also Cropper and Dempsey 308.
(30) Mirandola writes that the very act of thinking about death improves life, just as one who thinks about death avoids sinning (159).
(31) St. Bartholomew's martyrdom by flaying was depicted, for example, by Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652) in The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, 1624, Staatliche Graphische Sammlung, Munich. See Lenckhardt et al. 183. That Guercino also painted this subject can be surmised from his drawings. See Stone cat. no. 158.
(32) Guercino's Vanitas, which he executed at the same time, is also connected with the tradition of memento mori. See Salerno, I dipinti del Guercino cat. no. 49. On the interpretation of this element in Et in Arcadia Ego, see Weisbach 296; Panofsky, "Et in Arcadia Ego" 233; Freedman, The Classical Pastoral 116.
(33) On the parallel between Apollo and Christ, see Allen 176 and 240; Bernstock 166; Greenstein 49; O'Rourke Boyle 26; Freedman, "Apollo's Glance" 21; Panofsky, "Erasmus" 213.
(34) Fragments of Agucchi's treatise were first published by Giovanni Atanasio Mosini as Diverse figure da Annibale Carracci intagliate in rame da Simone Guilino Parigino (Rome, 1646). Mahon republished it in his impressive Studies in Seicento Art and Theory (231-75).
(35) On Agucchi as the iconographer of the Frascati series, see also Spear 1: 197; Ehrlich 97-98. On Agucchi as an iconographer for other projects, see Seznec 265.
(36) On this play on words, see Freedman, The Classical Pastoral 84.
(37) At the time when Domenichino and Guercino painted their Apollo Flaying Marsyas, Europe was engulfed in a new round of religious hostilities. Tension arose first within the Holy Roman Empire with the formation of the Evangelical Union on 14 May 1608 and the Catholic League on 10 July 1609. But the old enmity between Catholics and Protestants was enough to inflame feelings throughout Europe. Those feelings eventually deteriorated into a religious war, which broke out in Bohemia in 1618. In what has been named in the chronicles as the Thirty Years' War, hostilities continued until 1648, with the participation of most of the influential states of the Continent. Attitudes within the papal state were determined to a large extent by Pope Paul V (1605-1621), who was an ardent supporter of the Catholic cause and continued the anti-Protestant policy of his predecessors. Even before the war began in Bohemia, he had longed for a Catholic victory that would dispatch the Protestants once and for all and restore Catholic hegemony in Western Europe. To achieve this goal he poured funds into the Catholic League and was very active in promoting the importance of the war against the Protestant heresy. The literature on the religious tensions in the first half of the seventeenth century is considerable. See, for example, Pastor 27: 12-17; Friedrich 166-167; Iserloh et al. 620-621; Munck 2-11.
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|Author:||Unger, Daniel M.|
|Publication:||Explorations in Renaissance Culture|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2010|
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