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Triumph of Galatea | History today


Triumph of Galatea, around 1512, by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (Raphael), Villa Farnesina, Rome © Getty Images.

Ovid in his metamorphosestells the story of the mortal shepherd Acis, who falls in love with Galatea, a Nereid or water nymph, whose Greek name translates as "she who is milk white". The jealous Cyclop Polyphemus bludgeoned Acis with a boulder and in response, a troubled Galatea transformed him into the Sicily river that bears his name. Her narrative has inspired numerous works of art, including Handel's Shepherd's Opera from 1718, Acis and Galateawith a libretto by John Gay and paintings by Lorrain and Poussin.

Raphael Triumph of GalateaA fresco created for the Villa Farnesina in Rome around 1512 shows a later scene in the life of the Nereids when Galatea triumphed in a shell-drawn chariot drawn by dolphins. On the left a triton, half human and half fish, kidnaps a sea nymph while another sounds a conch trumpet. The work is inspired by La Giostra ("The Carousel"), a work by the poet Poliziano, who taught the Medici, the ruling family of Florence and one of the great pan-European intellectuals of the time. He had started to write La Giostra in honor of Giuliano de & # 39; Medici's victory in a tournament in 1475. He gave it up three years later after the Pazzi family tried to oust the Medici as rulers of Florence, with Giuliano stabbed to death during the mass was in the city's duomo. Poliziano saved Giuliano's brother Lorenzo by imprisoning him in the sacristy of the cathedral.

Raphael's fresco was commissioned for the Villa Farnesina by Agostino Chigi, a very wealthy Sienese banker who was treasurer of Pope Julius II. He had the villa built by Baldassarre Peruzzi in Rome's Trastevere district between 1506 and 1510. It was acquired in 1577 by the Farnese family, of whom Pope Paul III. And belonged to Elisabeth Farnese, who became Queen of Spain in the early 18th century. The building, whose main attraction is Raphael's fresco, is open to the public.

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