My week has not been going well and like Galatea, I would love to hop on my sea-shell chariot and flee.
Unfortunately my dolphins are in the shop, getting their teeth cleaned (look at the bite on those bad boys!)
So, although I cannot literally flee, I can mentally run to my happy place which is, of course, in Italy.
And since one of the many Italian art calendars on my office wall shows this Raphael fresco of Galatea, that is where I'll go!
Has everyone seen this fresco? I've taken to visiting it whenever I'm in Rome. Its full name is actually The Triumph of Galatea and it was completed by Raphael in 1512 in the Villa Farnesina in Trastevere.
The villa is wonderful to visit -- it's just far enough off the beaten path that it never seems busy, and it's actually quite small, although there are several rooms of lovely frescos, including the Loggia of Cupid and Psyche.
But to me, Galatea is the masterpiece of the villa, which was originally built for the Sienese banker Agostino Chigi, one of the richest men of the period.It was abandoned upon his death in 1520 and plundered in the Sack of Rome in 1527.
The Galatea fresco was inspired by the Greek myth which told of the beautiful Nereid -- or nymph -- Galatea, who had fallen in love with the peasant shepherd Acis. Her consort, the one-eyed giant, Polyphemus, found the lovers together, threw an enormous pillar and killed Acis.
But Raphael didn't base his fresco on those events. Instead, he chose the scene of the nymph's apotheosis; that is, her elevation to divine status.
Since this may not have actually happened (it is a myth) Raphael can depict Galatea surrounded by other interesting sea creatures whose forms were supposedly inspired by Michelangelo (who was working nearby in the Vatican) and whose the bright colors and decoration were inspired by ancient Roman paintings.
At the left, Raphael painted a Triton (part man, part fish) abducting a sea nymph; behind them, another Triton uses a shell as a trumpet. Galatea rides a shell-chariot drawn by two dolphins. On close inspection, I think they have sharp teeth.
While some have seen in Galatea the image of the courtesan, Imperia, who was Agostino Chigi's lover and a friend of Raphael, art biographer Giorgio Vasari wrote that Raphael didn't mean for Galatea to resemble any one human but to instead represent ideal beauty. Her gaze is directed upward to heaven, reflecting Platonic love.