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Apollo and Daphne

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

Italian painting

Corinne Dollfuss

Tiepolo treats this dramatic episode from Ovid's Metamorphoses (I, 452-567) by showing the end of Apollo's chase and the beginning of Daphne's transformation: she half-turns towards Apollo, but already the laurel shoots sprouting from her fingertips make it clear how her flight must end.

Mythology and classicism

A landscape provides the backdrop to this mythological scene from Ovid's Metamorphoses (I, 452-567), in which Daphne seeks to escape Apollo and the passion he has conceived for her. Tiepolo shows as simultaneous the end of Apollo's chase and the nymph's transformation into a laurel tree.
Fair-haired and all but naked, Daphne flees as her garments fly about her and her fingers turn into laurel shoots. Likewise naked except for his Roman sandals, quiver and a crimson mantle swept back by the wind, Apollo reaches for her with his left hand, stunned by her metamorphosis. In the foreground, leaning on an urn and holding an oar, the river Alpheus attempts to halt her flight. The generous physiques are inspired by French models, a novel feature in the work of this profoundly Venetian artist.

The metamorphosis of Daphne

The luminous red and yellow fabrics offer a violent contrast with the deep blue of the background. The figures are shown as on the point of bursting out of the painting, although this does not hamper Daphne's merging with the landscape. The nymph has been placed just beneath a tree which, while protecting her as if it were a hat, also echoes the transformation of the human into the vegetal. The scene takes place against an idyllic landscape, with umbrella pines rising out of the woodland on the far bank of the river. To the left, houses at the foot of the blue-tinged mountains bathe in the pink glow of sunset. This urge towards whimsical ornamentation is a throwback to the artist's Venetian days.

After Bernini

The inspiration here was certainly Bernini's sculpture of 1622-1624 on the same theme - now in the Borghesi Gallery in Rome - which Tiepolo knew from an engraving. The work is thus a color transposition of the baroque sculptor's celebrated piece.
The picture dates from the most productive decade of Tiepolo's career. Raised on the Venetian Renaissance tradition, he portrayed all the great mythological themes.

Technical description

  • Giovanni Battista TIEPOLO (Venice, 1696 - Madrid 1770)

    Apollo and Daphne

    c. 1743-44

  • H. 0.96 m; W. 0.79 m

  • Bequest of Basile de Schlichting, 1915 , 1915

    R.F. 2107

  • Paintings

    Denon wing
    1st floor
    Room 725

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