(b. 1625, Camerano, d. 1713, Roma)

Apollo Chasing Daphne

Oil on canvas, 221,2 x 224 cm
Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels

The story is taken from the Metamorphoses of the Roman poet Ovid. After Apollo had offended Cupid in his capacity as an archer, the god of love shot two separate arrows out of spite. One of these struck Apollo himself, who became inflamed with love for Daphne, the daughter of the river god Peneus. With the other, with opposing effect, he hit Daphne, who as a result fled Apollo's advances. Maratti depicts the point at which Apollo almost catches up Daphne and she is rescued by changing into an olive tree. In the foreground lies Peneus, recognisable as river god by his crock of flowing water.

Carlo Maratti, a native of the Marches and a pupil of Andrea Sacchi, was one of the leading painters of the Rome of his day. The prestigious commission for this painting came from Louis XIV of France. In it the king consciously followed the image of the Sun King by selecting a theme with the sun god Apollo in the main role. The moment in the story chosen here is very traditional and well-loved in the pictorial arts. A famous and virtuoso model is Bernini's group in the Galleria Borghese in Rome. Even so, Maratti's work was rejected by the French court when his work arrived in 1681. The Académie that the king had founded, with its ideals of unity of place, time and action, reproached Maratti for depicting the river god Apianus in the background, although Ovid mentions only later in the story that this god lamented Daphne's lot together with Peneus.

In accordance with the art theory of the time, which encouraged rivalry between artists, many French artists attempted to improve Maratti's composition by observing the academic rules in their own works with the same theme. In this way Maratti's painting became not only one of the first, but, ironically enough, also one of the most influential manifestations of classicism at the French court. Maratti's figures also contain various borrowings from classical antiquity and Renaissance models. His Apollo follows the Apollo Belvedere in the Vatican. The nymph to Apianus' right strongly resembles a print by Marcantonio Raimondi based on Raphael. Later Ingres and Manet sought inspiration from similar sources for their Odalisque and Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe respectively.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 6 minutes):
Giuseppe Torelli: Sonata a cinque in D Major No. 7