STROZZI, Bernardo
(b. 1581, Genova, d. 1644, Venezia)


Oil on cedar panel, 57 x 45 cm
Private collection

The mythological story of the contest between the goddess Athena (Minerva to the Romans) and the mortal woman Arachne was perhaps told best by the Roman poet Ovid in his Metamorphoses (Book VI). According to Ovid, Arachne lived in the country of Lydia (which had a legendary reputation for producing some of the most splendid textiles in the ancient world), where she matured into one of the finest weavers ever known. Arachne was in fact so adept at weaving that she became arrogant, and claimed that her ability rivaled that of the goddess Athena. A contest was arranged, and having been bested by the mortal Arachne, the infuriated goddess cursed the girl, turning her into a spider in punishment for her effrontery.

Strozzi's depiction of Arachne is part of a group of bust length depictions of female allegorical and historical figures and of saints that he began to create early on, perhaps in response to the visit to Genoa of Simon Vouet in 1620-22. Whatever their inspiration, Strozzi produced these beautiful "portraits" throughout his career, adapting his depictions to the theme at hand - refined and ethereal for his saints; sensual and seductive for his profane subjects.

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