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Galatea...or, this is how I'm feeling this week


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.

Comments (8)

I know how you feel! Love this post :)


I haven't been to Villa Farnesina yet, but always happy to journey vicariously. And I agree - mentally hopping on a seashell chariot and fleeing to Italy sounds perfect!

Sorry you were having a rough week. Hope things have eased up now that it's the weekend. Love this post and would love to see that fresco.

I was traveling this week (for work) and in the airport, I saw the latest issue of National Geographic Traveler with a headline on the cover: "World's Sexiest Small City" and it was Perugia, so of course, I thought of you.


Hey Galatea,

Lovely fresco. I didn't know about the Villa - probably a good thing, because I would have tried to cram it into an already hectic schedule in Rome last month. Next time...

In the absence of sea shell chariots, I think we'll have to settle for that prosecco party we talked about - the sooner the better.


Thanks Leslie.

Anne, I know what you mean -- I enjoyed traveling (vicariously) on your recent trip to Florence and Venice.

Annie, I just picked up the latest issue, I can't wait to read it!

Nirmala, we definitely need a prosecco party -- and soon!

I am really sorry to hear that your week has not been going well. I hope things are looking up for you. Italy is always the perfect place to escape to when feeling down.

Thank you for introducing me to The Triumph of Galatea. I remember our conversation about your visit to the Villa Farnesina. I wish now that I had made the time to visit while I was there.

I can't imagine why things are hectic at your work these days. ARGH It seems to be the way of the world.

Hopefully we can decompress over some vino next week.

I have never been to that villa (haven't been to Trastevere!) It sounds like the sort of spot we'd enjoy - let the others go to the spots dripping with tourists lugging their kodaks.


Girasoli, Italy is definitely my Happy Place where I hide when things are unpleasant.

I've gone back to Farnesina since we met in Rome -- it's always very calm and quiet. It's so off the beaten path (even though it's right in the centre of things) that the museum tour guide is a two-sided photocopied sheet that was originally written on a typewriter!

Jerry, I think you'd like the fact that it's beautiful but almost unknown. Yet it's no more than 5 minutes away from Ponte Sisto, between the Campo dei Fiori and Trastevere (which you have to visit next time you're in Rome)

Looking forward to the vino next week!

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