Apollo insegue Dafne (c.1755-1760)

Tiepolo, Giambattista (1696-1770)

Apollo insegue Dafne (Apollo Pursuing Daphne)
Oil on canvas, 68.5 x 87 cm
National Gallery of ArtWashington

Throughout his career Tiepolo painted small pictures of mythological themes, which proved extremely popular. The subjects of these works came from the best–known episodes from ancient literature, but his conception of the stories was varied and original. His depiction of Apollo e Dafne comes directly from Ovid‘s Metamorphoses. Daphne, the beautiful nymph and follower of the chaste goddess Diana, was pursued by the sun god Apollo, who had been struck by Cupid’s golden arrow of love. Fleeing Apollo, Daphne reached her father, the river god Peneus, seen here at left. To avoid Apollo’s unwanted advances, she was turned into a laurel tree. The transformation takes place before us as her leg turns into a trunk and her arms sprout branches. The Apollo Pursuing Daphne is unique among interpretations of the theme. Apollo’s forward thrust seems to propel Daphne backward in a composition of excited movement. Cupid takes cover from the wrath of Apollo that will shortly ensue, and Peneus remains firmly rooted in an effort to stop the ardent pursuer. The off–center composition, typical of Venetian art, was used by Tiepolo elsewhere but never in such a dramatic and emotionally intense manner. A cleanshaven man in a saffron-yellow cloak runs and points to a nude woman whose fingers are turning into leafy tree branches in this horizontal painting. The woman is supported by an elderly man with a long beard and a winged young child all gathered around an oversized urn. The people all have pale rosy or tanned skin. To our right, the young man runs toward the woman to our left. His cloak wraps around his hips and flies out behind him. He wears a laurel wreath nestled in his blond hair, which is surrounded by a gold glow. A quiver of arrows hangs from one hip, and he wears sandals but is otherwise nude. He points to the woman with his right hand, on our left, with that foot raised. The blond, nude woman sits on the urn and lies back on a white cloth supported by a nude boy with short white wings. Her back is to us, and she looks to our right in profile. The fingers of her raised hands morph into muted green leaves. One of her legs bends over the arm of an old man who sits next to the urn and hooks one arm over its round body. The man’s head is topped with dark green material, like reeds, and he has a long white beard. His skin is ruddy, and his body is muscular. The urn’s opening faces us, and water pours onto the scarlet-red cloth that drapes across the old man’s hips and pools on the dirt ground around him. A spade with a long, wooden handle and a long, narrow blade lies on the ground before him. Evergreen trees grow up the left side of the scene, which appears to take place at the top of a mountain, for we look down into a dense forest beyond. A hazy blue mountain in the deep distance points up to the topaz-blue sky spanned with thin layers of gray-white clouds. The artist signed the lower left, “Gio. B. Tiepolo.” (NGA)


Tiepolo, Giambattista (1696-1770)
Apollo e Dafne
Musée du LouvreParis



See also:

• Ovid (43 BC-17/18 AD): The Metamorphoses (English)