Raphael’s fresco shows Galatea with her gay companions; the giant is depicted in a fresco by Sebastiano del Piombo which stands to the left of Raphael’s Galatea. However long one looks at this lovely and cheerful picture, one will always discover new beauties in its rich and intricate composition. Every figure seems to correspond to some other figure, every movement to answer a counter-movement.
To start with the small boys with Cupid’s bows and arrows who aim at the heart of the nymph: not only do those to right and left echo each other’s movements, but the boy swimming beside the chariot corresponds to the one flying at the top of the picture. It is the same with the group of sea-gods which seems to be ‘wheeling’ round the nymph. There are two on the margins, who blow on their sea-shells, and two pairs in front and behind, who are making love to each other. But what is more admirable is that all these diverse movements are somehow reflected and taken up in the figure of Galatea herself. Her chariot had been driving from left to right with her veil blowing backwards, but, hearing the strange love song, she turns round and smiles, and all the lines in the picture, from the love-gods’ arrows to the reins she holds, converge on her beautiful face in the very centre of the picture.
In the midst of this, Galatea’s face is moved in the direction of Heaven with a gentle, pure demeanor. Her facial expression and physical posture proposes she’s oblivious to all the robust goings on about her. This is a case of Raphael’s style. His choice to portray her as such furthermore demonstrates how entranced specialists of the Renaissance were with Ancient Greece.
Raphael picked the snapshot of Galatea’s apotheosis, that is, her change upon death into one who might abide among the everlasting divine beings. This would be as a reward for her patient endurance of pains and trials in life. The Triumph of Galatea was painted by Raphael as his response to how he felt about the “Stanze per la giostra”.
The Sienese banker and art patron Agostino Chigi, whose great wealth made him one of the most powerful men of his age, built his Roman villa in the Trastevere district. Its construction and decoration were conducted by the Sienese painter and architect Baldassare Peruzzi, who, in turn, brought in other painters, including Sodoma and Sebastiano del Piombo, to execute parts of the fresco decorations. The ground-floor grand salon of the house has an ingenious and highly intricate ceiling fresco that treats Chigi’s horoscope; the stars were painted in the guise of personifications arranged in the sky at the moment of his birth. On the walls were planned a series of frescoes dealing with the gods of the earth and of the sea. Only two were ever executed: Sebastiano’s Polyphemus and Raphael’s Galatea. In contrast to its counterpart next to it, Raphael’s fresco offers continual turmoil and swift movement, as the graceful Galatea streaks across the sea in a shell propelled by dolphins.
As subject Raphael chose a verse from a poem by the Florentine Angelo Poliziano which had also helped to inspire Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. These lines describe how the clumsy giant Polyphemus sings a love song to the fair sea-nymph Galatea and how she rides across the waves in a chariot drawn by two dolphins, laughing at his uncouth song, while the gay company of other sea-gods and nymphs is milling round her.
In Greek mythology, Galatea (meaning “she who is milk-white”) is a sea-nymph known as a Nereid. Although she had appeared in other classical Greek tales, the story of Galatea and Acis first appeared in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. She falls in love with Acis, a beautiful, mortal shephard who is the son of Faunus, god of the forest, and the river-nymph Symaethis. Although her heart belongs to Acis, Galatea is also pursued by the Sicilian cyclops Polyphemus. Polyphemus becomes enraged by Galatea and Acis’s affair, and strikes Acis with a boulder, killing him instantly. Blood then bursts from the stone, and a grieving Galatea turns Acis’s blood into the Sicilian river Acis, where he is immortalized as a spirit.
The Triumph of Galatea is a fresco by renaissance artist Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino, also known as Raphael. It depicts the character of Galatea, who appears in Greek mythology as a sea-nymph in love with a mortal. Raphael has immortalized the moment of Galatea’s apotheosis, when she becomes a being of the most divine level. The fresco is a testament to the humanization Raphael was able to bring to his work, and is the only work of Raphael’s based on a Greek myth. Singulart explains the myth behind the artwork and explores the composition of the fresco.
Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, tells the story of the mortal peasant 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 Cyclops, Polyphemus, bludgeoned Acis with a boulder and, in response, a distraught Galatea transformed him into the Sicilian river that bears his name. Their tale has inspired numerous works of art, including Handel’s pastoral opera of 1718, Acis and Galatea, with a libretto by John Gay, and paintings by Lorrain and Poussin.
The water nymph, whose affair with a peasant shepherd inspired numerous works of art.