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Work Three Female Nudes

Department of Prints and Drawings: 16th century

Trois femmes nues

RMN-Grand Palais - Photo M. Urtado

Prints and Drawings
16th century

Grollemund Helene

Formerly attributed to Annibale Carracci, this drawing is now recognized as the work of his brother Agostino, done while he was working at the Palazzo del Giardino in Parma. Two of the nudes are preliminary studies for the Nereids at the lower right of the fresco of the Marriage of Thetis and Peleus, which alluded to the marriage of Ranuccio Farnese (who commissioned it), and Margherita Aldobrandini in 1599. The superb draftsmanship in red chalk lends the nudes a monumental quality.

From the Palazzo Farnese to the Palazzo del Giardino

Following a disagreement with his brother Annibale, Agostino left Rome in 1599, leaving the decoration of the vaulted ceiling of the Farnese Gallery unfinished. He went to Bologna and then on to Parma, where he worked for Ranuccio Farnese (1569-1622). From July 1600 he worked on the decoration of a room in the Palazzo del Giardino, a set of four frescoes devoted to the love story of Thetis and Peleus, which he was to leave uncompleted at his death.

An allegory for the marriage of Ranuccio Farnese

In the centre of the ceiling, three cupids in the garden of Venus in Cyprus prepare their arrows in anticipation of the marriage. The patron who commissioned this decorative scheme, Ranuccio Farnese, had himself recently married Margherita Aldobrandini (1588-1646), niece of Pope Clement VIII. The three frescoes in the room, flanked by stucco decoration, depict three successive episodes: Thetis steering the Argo between Scylla and Charybdis, Thetis trying to escape from Peleus, and the Marriage of Thetis and Peleus. This last fresco illustrates the power of love, as it triumphs over gods and mortals alike. It also alludes to a nuptial poem by Claudian (c.370-404 CE), The Epithalamium of Honorius and Maria, as well as to a poem by Catullus (c.87-c.54 BCE).

Serenity and maturity

It has been possible to identify several preliminary drawings for this cycle: the recto-verso drawing from the Mariette and Ellesmere collections, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), for the three cupids, Thetis steering the Argo and Thetis and Peleus; and three preliminary drawings in ink for Thetis and the Argonauts, now in Windsor Castle. The Louvre drawing shows studies, on the reverse, for the figures of the two Nereids who, in the scene of the Marriage of Thetis and Peleus, hold a shell containing three pearls or "margaritae", an allusion to the name of Ranuccio's young bride. The verso shows a life study for the torso of Peleus. Surprisingly, Agostino seems to have taken inspiration for his composition from a drawing by Orazio Samacchini, entitled Apollo and Galateus, today in the Louvre (Inv10494): an illustration of the neo-Mannerist style of some of his later works. The Nereids, meanwhile, with their full figures and transparent flesh tints rendered as naturally in the drawing as in the fresco, embody a luminous and serene vision of the last phase of Agostino's career.


Bacou R., Acquisitions du Cabinet des Dessins 1973-1983, Paris, musée du Louvre, 1984, n 29.
Loisel C., Le dessin à Bologne 1580-1620: La réforme des trois Carracci, exhibition, Paris, musée du Louvre, 1994, n 39.
Loisel C., Musée du Louvre, Département des Arts graphiques, Inventaire général des dessins italiens. Ludovico, Agostino, Annibale Carracci, to be published in 2004.

Technical description

  • Agostino CARRACCI (Bologna, 1557 - Parma, 1602)

    Three Female Nudes


  • Red chalk on white paper. Reverse in red chalk and black chalk.

    H. 26.3 cm; W. 37.7 cm

  • Sagredo collection, Venice, formerly known as the Borghese Albums. French private collection. Purchased in 1981.

    Bust of Peleus (on reverse of drawing)

    RF 38816

  • Prints and Drawings

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

Practical information

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