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Work Vulcan's Forge or Thetis at Vulcan's Forge

Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century

La forge de Vulcain

RMN-Grand Palais - Photo S. Maréchalle

Prints and Drawings
16th century

Author(s):
Bartolucci Sara

This drawing of Vulcan's Forge is a preparatory study for a painting now in Florence (Museo degli Uffizi), part of a series of paintings of mythological subjects celebrating the virtues of Florence's ruling family, the Medici. One of Vasari's finest works, the painting served as a prototype for the painters decorating the Studiolo of Francesco I de' Medici in the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.

A celebratory cycle

The drawing seems to have been executed by Vasari for his patron's inspection prior to signing of contract for the painting of the same title. The finished painting is part of a series of allegorical works celebrating Francesco de' Medici. The Louvre collection includes two further studies from the series, The Golden Age and Cupid Hunting. Vulcan's Forge is one of Vasari's most finely-executed drawings: its precise lines and careful use of wash combine to create pictorial effects comparable to those of a finished work.

Minerva and Vulcan

The drawing is inspired by the mythological account of Thetis's request to Vulcan to forge the armor of her son Achilles. Vasari's picture represents a departure from tradition: the woman in the foreground is depicted with the attributes of Minerva, not Thetis. This iconographical variation, intended to endow the work with a particular allegorical significance, was the suggestion of Vasari's friend Vincenzo Borghini. In effect, the two figures are the pictorial embodiment of the encounter between the goddess of the intellect or "ingenum" (Minerva, giving Vulcan his instructions) and the god of art or "ars" (Vulcan, forging a shield to Minerva's specifications). Vulcan is shown sculpting a shield with the figures of Aries and Capricorn-the astrological signs of Francesco de' Medici and his father Cosimo I, respectively. According to Borghini's description, the picture features an artist's studio in the background, similar to the one at the Accademia del Disegno in Florence. The reference to this distinguished institution, founded by Cosimo I in 1563, would immediately have been understood by Florentine intellectuals of the sixteenth century. Vasari has included a depiction of the Three Graces in the left background of the picture, representing the three so-called "arts of design" taught at the academy: sculpture, painting, and architecture. This hypothesis is confirmed by the presence of figures engaged in painting and sculpture within a carefully drawn architectural space.

The work of art: theory and practice combined

The picture's allegorical subject may be read and interpreted on a number of levels. In the first instance, the figures of Minerva and Vulcan represent the theory and practice of art-the complementary, symbiotic elements without which no artwork can be brought into existence. On another level, the figures may be seen to represent Borghini, the author of the picture's intellectual content (its iconographical program), and Vasari, the artist who produced the drawing. The figures of Aries and Capricorn clearly represent the double role of Cosimo I and Francesco de' Medici as the protectors of Florence and of the arts. In 1568 Vasari acknowledged his close links to the Medici by dedicating the first edition of his celebrated biographical work, the Lives of the Most Excellent Architects, Painters, and Sculptors, to Cosimo I.

Bibliography

Corti Laura, Vasari : catalogue complet des peintures, traduit de l'italien par Marc Baudoux, Paris, Bordas, 1990, n 88.
The Medici Michelangelo and the Art of Late Renaissance Florence, cat. exp. Detroit, The Detroit Institute of Arts, 2003, notice 210, p. 347 et fig. 210, p. 348.
Monbeig-Goguel Catherine, Vasari et son temps. Maîtres toscans nés après 1500, morts après 1600, cat. exp. Paris, musée du Louvre, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1972, notice 233.
Monbeig-Goguel Catherine, in Collections de Louis XIV, dessins, albums, manuscrits, cat. exp. Paris, musée de l'Orangerie, 1977-1978, n 61.
Popham A. E., Wilde Johannes, The Italian Drawings of the XV and XVI Centuries in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle, London, 1949, n 521.
Scoti Bertinelli Ugo, Giorgio Vasari scrittore, Pise, 1905, p. 95.

Technical description

  • Giorgio VASARI (Arezzo, 1511-Florence, 1574)

    Vulcan's Forge or Thetis at Vulcan's Forge

    Circa 1567

  • Black chalk and brown ink with white highlights on yellow ochre paper

    H. 38.4 cm.; W. 28.4 cm

  • Everhard Jabach collection; acquired by the King's chamber in 1671

    INV2161

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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