Perseus Rescuing Andromeda

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The Greek hero Perseus, traveling home after slaying Medusa, spotted the princess Andromeda chained to a rock. He rescued her from being sacrificed to a sea monster and won her hand in marriage. This painting depicts a version of the ancient myth popularized in sixteenth-century Italy, in which Perseus arrives astride Pegasus, the winged horse born from Medusa’s blood. Small mythological scenes like this made Arpino one of Rome’s most fashionable painters among sophisticated connoisseurs.

In the foreground, a chained maiden, naked and vulnerable, looks warily at a sea monster baring its sharp teeth. The monster, however, appears more alarmed than the maiden, having just spotted an armed warrior astride a winged steed swooping down towards it. The warrior brandishes his sword and a shield emblazoned with the head of Medusa. The subject of the painting is drawn from the legend of Perseus and Andromeda, as told in Book IV of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Cassiopeia, King Cepheus of Ethiopia’s wife, boasted that their daughter, Andromeda, was more beautiful than any of Poseidon’s nymphs. As punishment, Poseidon unleashed a vicious sea monster. An oracle’s prophecy convinced Cepheus that the only way to save his kingdom was to sacrifice his beloved daughter to the creature. The artist Giuseppe Cesari chose to paint the climactic moment of the story, when Perseus, riding the winged horse Pegasus, rescues Andromeda. Perseus was returning home after killing Medusa, the Gorgon with snakes for hair, whose stare could turn any creature to stone.

The artist came to be known as Cavaliere d’Arpino (the Knight of Arpino) after being knighted by Pope Clement VIII. He spent much of his career in Rome, running a busy studio in which many young painters were trained, the notorious Caravaggio among them. Arpino primarily produced grand frescoes and altarpieces for the papal court. This intricate work, with its fluid brushstrokes and delicate glazes, is very different from his public commissions. Small-scale, mythological, or biblical paintings like this, intended for the art cabinets of private collectors in Italy and abroad, made Arpino among the most fashionable painters in Rome.

The subject must have appealed to the artist and his clients, since at least ten examples in other collections are known: four painted on wooden panels, like this one; three on slate; two on canvas; and one on the precious blue stone lapis lazuli. Several of these were painted partly by assistants in Arpino’s workshop, but this one relates closely to a version in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum that is signed and dated by the artist himself.

Provenance

[Carlo Orsi, Milan]; Katz Foundation Collection, London (by sale to Clark Art Institute, 2010); Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 2010.

Cavaliere d'Arpino (Giuseppe Cesari)

Italian, 1568–1640

Perseus Rescuing Andromeda

1594/95

Oil on panel

20 11/16 x 14 15/16 in. (52.5 x 38 cm)


Acquired by the Clark, 2010

2010.7


ON VIEW