(b. ca. 1550, Ferrara, d. 1620, Ferrara)

Salmacis and Hermaphroditus

c. 1585
Oil on wood, 42 x 56 cm
Galleria Borghese, Rome

A Hellenistic myth of oriental origin tells of a being who was half male, half female, the offspring of Hermes and Aphrodite (Mercury and Venus), hence his name, Hermaphroditus. As a young man - he began life as a male - he once bathed in a lake where Salmacis, one of Diana's nymphs, dwelt. She fell in love with him at first sight and clung to him with such passion that their two bodies became united in one.

In Scarsellino's painting the two figures are set in a spectacular natural landscape where the deep-blue streaks of the sky are interrupted by shades of pink and orange, echoed by the two hovering putti and Salmacis's dress lying on the bank. Hermaphroditus is shown trying to resist her embrace.