Friday, December 7, 2012

Orpheus Charming the Animals

Artist: Guiseppe Cades
Media: Pen and brown ink; ochre, brown, pink, and grey wash
Date: c. 1780
Dimensions: H 14.5 cm; W 38 cm
“This drawing, dating from the 1780s, was probably the preliminary study for a decorative painting (or perhaps for an engraving) today only known to us through two unsigned drawings. The work is composed of two scenes: in the background, Orpheus charming the birds; in the foreground, a strange allegory which is rather difficult to interpret. A female figure, probably Venus, gestures toward three cupids hammering at an anvil (possibly that of Vulcan). The juxtaposition of these two scenes, with the noisy atmosphere of the one in stark contrast to the musicality of the other, probably derives from a loose and ironic interpretation of Book Ten of Ovid's Metamorphoses (8 AD) in which the Latin poet recounted Orpheus's romantic adventures. The hero, after failing in his attempt to rescue Eurydice from the underworld, retired to Thrace, where he renounced his love of women and dedicated his life to teaching. He taught the men of this part of Greece the art of loving pre-pubescent boys.” Bartolucci S.
Guiseppe  Cades was born in 1750. He trained at Rome’s Accademia di San Luca but due to his excessive independence his master resented him and he left. He worked on many projects for the Roman palazzo. By the 1780’s he became a fellow of the Accademia di San Luca, and one of his clients was Catherine the Great of Russia. He died in 1799.

To understand how this artwork fits the theme one would need to know the story behind Orpheus. Orpheus had a wife named Eurydice. They were inseparable until one day Eurydice was bitten by a snake running away from a mischievous fawn. Her soul went to the underworld where Hades ruled, which is the equivalent of hell and Satan. Orpheus was a master musician and used his skill of music to persuade Hades’ wife to talk Hades into letting Eurydice’s soul go. Hades agreed as long as Orpheus walked ahead of her and never looked back to make sure she was following, otherwise her soul would remain. Orpheus almost succeeded but at the exit of the underworld he grew impatient and looked behind him only to see Eurydice sucked away. I chose this piece because I love the tragic love story. As per the theme, the journey into hell and Hades are the tying features.

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