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Iconography in the collections of the Louvre Museum
THE MUSES IN ANCIENT ART
Three Muses : Urania, Calliope, Melpomene
An oenochoe (wine flask) bearing red figures, from the 5th century B.C.
Muse holding a volumen (Myrina, Ile de Lemnos)
It is a small 1st century B.C. statue of a Muse holding a volumen, a scroll which was read as it was unfolded, ancestor of the book (this gave rise to the Latin expression evolvere librum, meaning "to flick through, read rapidly" ; in the libraries, the volumina were kept in narrow, deep compartments on shelves. (
Can you identify the American cult author of the beat generation who wrote the manuscript of his novel on one single scroll 36-meters long ?).
Sarcophagus of the Muses (160 years A.D.)
Students of secundary school (lycée Margueritte, Verdun) have studied the famous sarcophagus of the Muses.
The Italian Renaissance
Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) : Mars and Venus, or Parnassus (1497)
Mars and Venus are standing at the top of an arch resembling an arch of triumph. At their feet their son Anteros is aiming a blowpipe at Vulcan, Venus's lawful husband, who built his ironworks inside a cave. Facing this cave is the mount Helicon, the abode of the Muses, who make up the central part of the painting.They are singing and dancing to the sound of the lyre played by Apollo.
Lorenzo Costa (1460-1535) : The Reign of the Muses (1507)
One art critic says that this painting is an "allegory of intellectual pleasure" : four musicians, a writer, a painter surrounding a young woman sitting and holding a child on her lap.
The School of Fontainebleau
Rosso Fiorentino (Florence, 1496 - Fontainebleau, 1540) : The Pierides' Challenge
The subject matter is taken from Ovid (Metamorphoses 250-260). The Pierides, natives of Thrace (from Macedonia, through their father Pierus, a native of Pella), challenge the Muses to a contest in poetry. They confront each other on Mount Helicon with Dionysus, Apollo and Minerva looking on. During the contest, the Muses strike up a song that nearly makes Helicon explode (see Jacques Stella's painting Minerva and the Muses). The Pierides refuse to accept defeat and want to attack the Muses. They are punished by Apollo and transformed into magpies.
The Flemish School
Hendrick Van Balen (Anvers, 1575 - Anvers, 1632) : The Banquet of the Gods : The Muses.
Nicolas Poussin (Les Andelys, 1594 - Rome, 1665) : The Inspiration of the Poet (about 1630)
The painting depicts the Assembly of the Muses ( Parnassus) gathered around Apollo, god of light, beauty and arts. In ancient mythology, this assembly met on the mount Parnassus, dedicated to the fine arts. Poussin painted that mythological scene in accordance with the tradition of the Antiquity, as perfected during the Italian Renaissance. One of the main example of this style remains the work by the artist Raphaël in one of the Vatican's chambers.
Nicolas Poussin (Les Andelys, 1594 - Rome, 1665) : The Shepherds of Arcadia (about 1638)
Arcadia, a wild and mountainous region in central Peloponnesus, is, according to the mythology, the favourite place of residence of the god Pan. Inhabited by nymphs and shepherds, it epitomizes nature in its primitive state, a kind of pagan paradise on earth. That is the scenery chosen by Poussin for picturing the mysterious discovery by three shepherds and a young woman of a tomb bearing the following inscription in Latin : "Et in Arcadia ego" ("I (meaning death) am everywhre, even in Arcadia"). © Louvre.edu - text by C. Barbillon, V. Pomarède
Jacques de Stella (Lyon, 1596 - Paris, 1657) : Minerva visiting the Muses (vers 1640)
The subject, taken from Ovid (Metamorphoses 250-260), is modified by the addition of a Muse of painting, a role held by Polymnia, the Muse of lyrical poetry in honour of the gods and heroes. This modified representation of the fable conveys the idea that the art of painting, ranked with the other mental disciplines, is capable of submitting its inspiration to the demands of wisdom and reason, as evidenced by the presence of Minerva. Following their victory in the contest with the Pierides the Muses ("Clio", "Melpomene", "Urania"...) strike up a song, which fills Mount Helicon with such joy that it is on the brink of exploding. Pegasus kicks the mountain with its hoof and the Hippocrene spring starts to flow. Minerva, alerted by Fama, comes to contemplate this phenomenon.
© Louvre.edu - text by Vincent Pomarède
Eustache Le Sueur (Paris, 1616 - Paris, 1655) : The Chamber of the Muses (1652-1655 )
The Hotel of Lambert de Thorigny, located on the Île Saint-Louis and built by Le Vau, contained numerous decorative works. Eustache Lesueur (among other artists) made a large contribution to the interior decoration. He decorated the "Cabinet de l'amour" and the Cabinet of the Muses. On the ceiling was painted a scene in which Phaeton asks Apollo if he can drive the sun chariot. Two pictures, each representing three Muses ("Melpomene, Erato et Polymnia" and "Clio, Euterpe et Thalia"), together with three other oval works by Le Sueur, executed circa 1650, decorated the Cabinet of the Muses. Three Muses are represented alone : Terpsichore, the Muse of dance and poetry, is seen playing a percussion instrument, in a pastoral decoration which is continued throughout the four other panels. Urania, the Muse of astronomy, is holding a compass and leaning on a sphere. Calliope, leaning against a tree, is seen playing a more refined instrument than the trumpet : a harp which she plays with both hands.
(© [louvre.edu], text by C. Barbillon, V. Pomarède
Jean-Dominique Ingres (Montauban, 1780 - Paris, 1867) : Birth of the Muses
Zeus is in the center of the painting : Mnemosyne in white gives birth to a Muse. One can see on the right the Muses being born.