2007-2008 2006-2007 2005-2006 2004-2005 2003-2004 2002-2003 2001-2002 2000-2001 1999-2000 1998-1999 1997-1998
1996-1997 1995-1996 1994-1995 1993-1994 1992-1993 1991-1992 1990-1991 1989-1990 1988-1989 1987-1988 1986-1987
< Thumbnails < Last | Next >

The Triumph of Perseus

Camillo Procaccini
The Triumph of Perseus, c.1600
Pen and brown ink with brown wash heightened with white on blue-grey paper
30.8 x 23.5 cm
Purchased 2001

The Northern Italian Baroque painter Camillo Procaccini dominated the artistic scene in Lombardy in the second half of the sixteenth century. His search for a reforming style of religious painting was based on a clear and coherent exposition of Catholic doctrine as dictated by the Counter-Reformation.

Procaccini was a prolific artist, but mythological subjects such as the present one are actually quite rare in his oeuvre. This extraordinary sheet features a finely calibrated composition based on strongly sculptural forms moving in a shallow, compressed space. Procaccini's style was typically controlled and legible but at the same time enlivened by muscular, elongated figures in complex poses.

The narrative from Ovid's Metamorphoses relates how Perseus, the son of Jupiter and Danaë, managed to slay Medusa, who could turn men into stone at a glance - to avoid setting eyes on her directly, he used a mirror as he approached her. Medusa had once been a beautiful maiden, but was turned into a monstrous Gorgon by Minerva as punishment for having coupled with Poseidon and become pregnant in a temple dedicated to the goddess. Perseus was sent on his potentially fatal quest by a royal suitor of his mother who wished to be rid of the son. Procaccini emphasizes the valour of Perseus, shown attired like an ancient Roman warrior, by leaving out the divine attributes that had helped him in his confrontation with Medusa. Here Perseus is returning his sword to its hilt after decapitating the creature. Medusa's head, with its snaky hair, rests at the base of the design, the blood gushing prominently from the neck (a detail indicating that the courageous deed has only just been completed).

The myth goes on to describe how the winged horse Pegasus sprang from the blood of Medusa when she was beheaded. Horses were sacred to Poseidon, and Pegasus was his child by Medusa. Camillo daringly depicts the horse from behind, restlessly clawing the earth as if making ready to assist Perseus on his next adventure. The inclusion of the miraculous birth of Pegasus is rare in art and indicates a desire for novelty on Camillo's part.

Camillo apparently never made a painting of this subject. The drawing - a highly refined work - was most certainly made as an end in itself, to satisfy a connoisseur's taste. There is one known contemporary testimony of a Milanese dealer describing how highly private collectors valued Procaccini's drawings. It is apparent that Procaccini produced drawings for their own sake to meet the demands of this refined market, and The Triumph of Perseus may be the most noteworthy single example to survive.