Francesco del Cossa: The Three Graces, c. 1470

In the years 1469/70, Cosimo Tura and Francesco del Cossa painted some allegorical frescoes for the Este family in their Palazzo Schifanoia right outside the walls of Ferrara. This is a detail from the background of the Allegory of April, showing the three Graces, the oldest surviving post-classical rendering of this subject.

Cosimo Tura: Calliope

It may be that the painting of pagan themes started in Ferrara even earlier than in Florence. This picture of the muse Calliope by Cosimo Tura (Il Cosmè) is dated 1460.

Michelangelo: Poem

RAVISHED by all that to the eyes is fair,
Yet hungry for the joys that truly bless,
My soul can find no stair

To mount to heaven, save earth’s loveliness.
For from the stars above
Descends a glorious light

That lifts our longing to their highest height
And bears the name of love.
Nor is there aught can move

A gentle heart, or purge or make it wise,
But beauty and the starlight of her eyes.


Translation by George Santayana.

Antonio Pollaiuolo: Hercules Slaying the Hydra, c. 1475

The second small picture of Heracles Antonio Pollaiuolo painted for Lorenzo il Magnifico, of equal height, fighting the lion, seems to be lost completely. Heracles fighting the Hydra is in the Uffizi, and even in better condition than Antaeus. Vasari writes about it:

The third picture, wherein Hercules is slaying the Hydra, is something truly marvellous, particularly the serpent, which he made so lively and so natural in coloring that nothing could be made more lifelike. In that beast are seen venom, fire, ferocity, rage, and such vivacity, that he deserves to be celebrated and to be closely imitated in this by all good craftsmen.

Antonio Pollaiuolo: Hercules Slaying Antaeus, c. 1478

Antonio Pollaiuolo painted three small pictures of Heracles for Lorenzo il Magnifico, each about 17cm high. One of them seems to be lost, the other two are in the Uffizi. Vasari writes:

The first of these, which is slaying Antaeus, is a very beautiful figure, in which the strength of Hercules as he crushes the other is seen most vividly, for the muscles and nerves of that figure are all strained in the struggle to destroy Antaeus. The head of Hercules shows the gnashing of the teeth so well in harmony with the other parts, that even the toes of his feet are raised in the effort. Nor did he take less pains with Antaeus, who, crushed in the arms of Hercules, is seen sinking and losing all his strength, and giving up his breath through his open mouth.

Antaeus was the son of Poseidon and Gaia, invincible as long as his feet touched the ground. Heracles, on discovering his secret, lifted him up and crushed him in his arms.

Pietro Perugino: Apollo and Marsyas

This small painting in a massive frame is somewhat mysterious. When the Louvre bought it in 1883, it was thought to be by Raphael. Meanwhile it is generally attributed to his teacher Pietro di Cristoforo Vannucci, better known as Pietro Perugino.

There are lots of contradictory dates for the picture. Most likely it was made in Florence during the lifetime (and maybe for) Lorenzo il Magnifico, who died in April 1492. Perugino was certainly in Florence from 1486 on, when he was fined ten florin for trying to mug someone, and maybe since 1483.

The picture might show Apollo and Marsyas, who challenged the god to a flute contest and was flayed for this hubris, but the flute player has been identified as Daphnis, the inventor of pastoral poetry, as well. Since Daphnis is the male form of Daphne, and Daphne is the Greek word for Laurel, this might be a witty hommage to Lorenzo.

Alexander Pope: Imitation of Martial

AT length, my Friend (while Time, with still career,
Wafts on his gentle wing his eightieth year),
Sees his past days safe out of Fortune’s power,
Nor dreads approaching Fate’s uncertain hour;
Reviews his life, and in the strict survey,
Finds not one moment he could wish away,
Pleased with the series of each happy day.
Such, such a man extends his life’s short space,
And from the goal again renews the race;
For he lives twice, who can at once employ
The present well, and ev’n the past enjoy.


Referred to in a letter from Trumbull to Pope dated January, 1716. The epigram imitated is X, 23.

Sandro Botticelli: Pallas and Centaur, c. 1482

This beautiful picture was discovered as recently as 1895, in one of the ante-rooms of the Pitti Palace, by Mr. William Spence of Florence, who at once recognized it as a work of Botticelli’s. After some renovation (it had already been painted over in parts) it was for a time exhibited at the Uffizi; but has since been removed to the private apartments of the Pitti Palace.

A. Streeter, from whose 1903 book Botticelli the above quote is taken, saw Pallas and the Centaur as an allegory of the peace that ended the war between Florence on one side and the Pope and the Kingdom of Naples on the other, but there are other interpretations as well.

Vasari on Christianity and Art

BUT the most harmful and destructive force which operated against these fine arts was the fervent zeal of the new Christian religion, which, after long and sanguinary strife, had at length vanquished and abolished the old faith of the heathen, by means of a number of miracles and by the sincerity of its acts. Every effort was put forth to remove and utterly extirpate the smallest things from which errors might arise, and thus not only were the marvellous statues, sculptures, paintings, mosaics and ornaments of the false pagan gods destroyed and thrown down, but also the memorials and honours of countless excellent persons, to whose distinguished merits statues and other memorials had been set up in public by a most virtuous antiquity. Besides all this, in order to build churches for the use of the Christians, not only were the most honoured temples of the idols destroyed, but in order to ennoble and decorate S. Pietro’ with more ornaments than it then possessed, they took away the stone columns from the mold of Hadrian, now the castle of Sant’Angelo, as well as many other things which we now see in ruins.

From the preface of the Vite, translation by Gaston C. DeVere.

Raphael: The Triumph of Galatea (1512)

Raphael painted this Triumph of Galatea as a fresco in a loggia of the Roman villa of Agostino Chigi, a very rich Sienese banker “who was much the friend of every man of excellence,” as Giorgio Vasari put it. The Farnese family later bought the villa, and it is now know as the Villa Farnesina.

The Triumph of Galatea is Raphael’s only bigger mythological work. His Three Graces are very small, and The Judgement of Paris is not a painting, but a drawing intended solely to be engraved by Marcantonio Raimondi.

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