Artibus et Historiae no. 68 (XXXIV)

2013, ISSN 0391-9064

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MARZIA FAIETTI - Betrayals of the Gods and Metamorphoses of Artists: Parmigianino, Caraglio and Agostino Carracci (pp. 257–275)

In Book VI of Metamorphoses Ovid makes only a passing reference to the myth of Jupiter transformed into a satyr to seduce Antiope. For this reason, at the beginning of sixteenth century its iconographic reconstruction could not depend on the ékphrasis of an ample and detailed literary passage, and to illustrate it artists had to draw on collective memory, a reserve of figurative models at their disposition. Visual resources thus compensated for the concision of a literary source, and classical myths offered further cues for a new and fascinating game of metamorphoses, this time based on the grafting of different meanings onto identical, or at least similar, forms.

Artists’ attempts to fill the gap of written tradition in this manner constitute an original chapter of ut pictura poësis. This study permits to reflect on the intersection between visual sources and literary resources in the creative process of image-making, in reference to the specific cases of two representations of Jupiter and Antiope: an engraving made by Gian Giacomo Caraglio, Jupiter Surprising Antiope, and a drawing by Parmigianino, Jupiter in the Form of a Satyr Unveiling Antiope, today in the Louvre. Both executed during the 1520s, to varying degrees they show their debt to the Original Sin in the Sistine Chapel, where the drama of the religious subject and the unusual interpretation given by Michelangelo lends itself to a re-elaboration in scenes of strong erotic content.

The first part of the article is focused in particular on the contribution of Parmigianino to Caraglio’s inventio: the long elaboration of the pose of Saint Jerome in Parmigianino’s Madonna with Child, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Jerome, today in the London National Gallery, contributes in fact to the version of Caraglio’s Antiope, providing us with a first example of the cross-pollination of religious and erotic scenes typical of this period.

The final part deals with the success as an erotic avatar of the Sistine Eve in examples based on Bolognese engravings and drawings, with particular reference to Agostino and Ludovico Carracci.

Through such cases of semantic metamorphoses, it was aimed to underline how the artists under discussion eluded the Roman Church’s prescriptions of decency and decorum both in the years immediately preceding the Sack of Rome and during the Catholic reaction to the Protestant Reformation. Their attempt was made in the name of freedom of artistic creative process and autonomy of their figurative resources.

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