The Loves of the Gods (Carracci)

The Loves of the Gods (Carracci)

"The Loves of the Gods" is a massive fresco cycle completed by Annibale Carracci and his studio in the Palazzo Farnese (now the French Embassy) in Rome. The fresco series was greatly admired in its time, and was later felt to reflect a change in aesthetic in Rome from Mannerism to Baroque.


Cardinal Odoardo Farnese, Pope Paul III's nephew, commissioned Annibale and his crew to decorate the barrel-vaulted gallery in the piano nobile of the family palace. Work was started in 1597 and ended in 1608. The studio involved were led by Annibale, and later briefly his brother Agostino, included a number of significant artists, such as Francesco Albani, Guido Reni, Domenichino, and Sisto Badalocchio. The [ Farnese Gallery] consists of profusely decorated quadratura and framed mythologic scenes.


Annibale had first decorated a small room (the Camerino) in the Palazzo with scenes from the life of Hercules, likely to enhance the viewing of the famed Roman statue of the Farnese Hercules. In 1597, he began to decorate the gallery with mythological themes set within frames painted on an illusionistic architectural framework (quadratura) [] . Ignudi, putti, and caryatid-like figures hold up the painted framework. Bellori, a noted art critic of the next generation called it "Human Love Governed by Celestial Love".

In the center panel, the [ Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne] depicts a both riotous and classically restrained procession which ferries Bacchus and Ariadne to their lovers' bed. Here, the underlying myth is that Bacchus, the god of wine, had gained the love of the abandoned princess, Ariadne. In the Republican and Imperial Roman era, triumphs were parades by victorious leaders, wherein a laureled-crowned "imperator" was led by a white chariot led by two white horses. The two lovers are led by chariots drawn by tigers [] and a parade of nymphs, bacchanti, and trumpeting satyrs. At the fore, Bacchus' friend, the paunchy, ugly, and leering drunk Silenus, rides an ass. The figures carefully cavort in order to hide most naked male genitals. The program may refer to Ovid's Metamorphosis (VIII; lines 160-182) or a trifling carnival song-poem written by Lorenzo de Medici in about 1475, that entreats: []

The painter's cousin Ludovico Carracci engraved uncensored versions in prints of the scenes. Also in contrast to the ceiling's intimation rather than outright depiction of mythological lovemaking are erotic engravings by the painter's brother Agostino - the I Modi.

Critical Assessment and Legacy

After completing the Farnese frescoes, Annibale reportedly entered a long depression, and none of his subsequent works were considered as noteworthy. His influence for the future aesthetic of the fresco would be powerful. The density of figures would fuel debates in the next generation of fresco painters, Sacchi and Cortona; clearly, as this fresco indicates, Carracci's effervescent manner influenced Cortona.

Carracci, in his day, was seen as one of the painters that revived the classical style. Rebellious artists such as Caravaggio and his followers would in few years abandon the sunny background, and the representation of mythology in their art. But it would be inappropriate to view Carracci as solely the continuation of an inherited tradition; in his day, his vigorous and dynamic style, and that of his trainees, changed the pre-eminent aesthetic of Rome. His work would have been seen as liberating for artists of his day, touching on pagan themes with an unconstrained joy. It could be said that while Mannerism had mastered the art of formal strained contraposto and contorsion; Carracci had depicted dance and joy.

Neoclassic formalism and severity frowned on the excesses of Carracci; but in his day, he would have been seen as masterful, as the supreme approximation to classic beauty. Carracci painted in the tradition of Raphael and Giulio Romano's secular Galatea frescoes in the Loggia of the Villa Farnesina [] [The Villa Farnesina was acquired by the same family, but built earlier for Agostino Chigi at the foot of the Janiculum Hill. The Villa Farnesina is now the Academy of Lincei in Rome, and is bullhorn distance from the Farnese across the Tiber, and there were plans then to join both by a bridge.] . Unlike Raphael though, they display a Michelangelo-esque muscularity, and depart from the often emotionless visages of High Renaissance painting. Finally, it has been said that Carracci and his school blended Venetian colorism with the Florentine-Umbrian attention to drawing and design; yet this is best seen in the oil canvases rather than frescoes in the Farnese, which required for Carracci and intensive degree of drawn preplaning and attention, much of which still exists.

Thomas Hoving, later director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, wrote his PhD on the cycle, pointing out many correspondences between the frescoes and items in the famous Farnese collection of Roman sculpture, much of which was then housed in the gallery (it is now in Naples, mostly in the Museo di Capodimonte). His suggestion that many details of the fresoes were designed to compliment the marbles below has been generally accepted.

Visiting the Farnese Gallery

To visit the gallery you must schedule a free appointment by phone or mail with the Servizio Culturale, French Embassy, Piazza Farnese 67, Rome 00186, Italy, Phone: 06-686011. Indicate when you wish to visit and provide a local phone number to receive confirmation a few days prior to your visit.

Panels of Farnese Ceiling

*Central Ceiling Fresco
*: "Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne"
* Ceiling Scenes
*: Bedding Scenes
*: "Jove beds Juno"
*: "Venus, Cupid, and Anchise (father of Aeneas) (Genus Latinum)"
*: "Crescent-crowned Diane and Endymion"
*: "Hercules with tambourine and Iole with Club"
*: Other
*: "Europa and the Bull (Jupiter)"
*: "Aurora abducts Cephalus in her Chariot"
*: "Peleus abducts the Nereid Tethys"
*: "The Cyclops Polyphemus and the Nereid Galatea"
*: "The Cyclops Polyphemus Throws a Boulder at Fleeing Acis (and Galatea)"
*: "Ganymede and the Eagle (Jupiter)"
*: "Apollo abducts Hyacinth Skyward"
*: "Pan and Diana"
*: "Mercury Brings golden Apple to Paris"
*Wall Scenes
*: "Peseus rescues Andromeda from the Dragon"
*: "Perseus turns Phineas and followers to stone using the head of Medusa"
*: "The Virgin and the Unicorn"
*: "Icarus and Dedalus"
*: "Diane is shown the Jupiter-impregnated Callisto"
*: "Metamorphosis of Callisto into a Bear"
*: "Mercury and Apollo"
*: "Arion the Citharist is rescued by Dolphins"
*: "Minerva and Prometheus"
*: "Hercules slays the Dragon"
*: "Hercules liberates Prometheus"

External links

* [ of the room with the fresco]
*A paraphrased copy decorates the ceiling of the Blue Drawing Room at West Wycombe Park in England.

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