Andrea Sacchi: Marc’Antonio Crowned by Apollo (1641)

The castrato Marc’Antonio Pasqualini was the leading male soprano of his day. He joined the choir of the Sistine Chapel in 1630, and from 1632 was a protagonist of many operas produced at the Palazzo Barberini. His right hand rests on the keys of an upright harpsichord, which is decorated with a figure of Daphne and a bound satyr.

The figure of Apollo in the center is loosely based on the Apollo Belvedere. Behind him is a figure of Marsyas tied to a tree with his bagpipes beside him. It was widely accepted in antiquity that the sound of a kithara was more “intellectual” and therefore superior to that of the pipe, and in the present picture the wreath of laurels over Pasqualini’s head is probably intended to celebrate not only his triumphs, but the triumph of the nuova musica, with its emphasis on the accompanied voice. The painting is therefore both a portrait and an allegory of music.

Andrea Sacchi was the leading classical painter in Rome at the time. He was on terms of intimacy with Nicolas Poussin, whose style the present work recalls. (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

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