Mythologica et Erotica

Enchanting Ancient Myths and their Erotic Legacy

Margreta Guarnieri
December 29, 2005

“A joy for the eyes, this exhibition warms the heart and opens the mind to dreams” This is how Antonio Paolucci, Superintendent of the Arts in Florence, described the exhibition “Mythologica et Erotica” at its opening night in Palazzo Pitti, where it will be on display until May 15.


As the title suggests, the exhibition is a journey through the loving attitudes of the merry gods of Greek mythology. Don’t expect a “hardcore movie” of the past: even in the orgies; Eros is handled with respect and presented with great sensibility, good taste and intriguing sensuality, offering a highly pleasurable experience to visitors. The wonderful building of the Museo degli Argenti is the perfect setting for this sensitive presentation of the works displayed, which range from paintings and sculptures to drawings and tapestries, not to mention a vast array of precious cameos.


“The idea for this exhibition was born while studying the valuable collection of 800 cameos from the Medici family, most of them representing mythological themes,” explains Ornella Casazza, the exhibition curator. “The more or less illicit love affairs between gods and humans, fauns and nymphs, satyrs and bacchants, heroes and the fantastic creatures described in old myths and legends intrigued the Renaissance collectors, who avidly sought to obtain the Greek and Roman themes censured during the Middle Ages.”


Figurative and literary examples inspired artists to reproduce erotic symbols and metamorphoses in prints, paintings, sculptures, jewels, decorations and everyday objects such as ceramic dishes or bronze candleholders. Thus, we have an apotheosis of naked bodies in tender embraces painted by Tiepolo, Rubens, Giambologna, Carracci and many other artists moved by the suggestions of ancient myths, and commissioned by wealthy patrons who liked to identify with those myths.


The first century AD proved to be a particularly propitious one for erotic art: hence in the exhibition we see a stone phallus proudly standing on lion’s feet and a sleeping hermaphrodite with double sexual attributes, also a lurking marble Pan, Mars and Venus displaying their love on a silver cup. Then we find a willing bronze Ganimede, (lent by the British Museum), seated on an eagle made in XVI AD,  alluring dancing Graces reproduced in the same century and the rare collages of erotic positions by Raimondi. Not to mention the various representations of the triumphs of Venus, culminating in a majestic French tapestry which is  exhibited here for the first time ever alongside an equally impressive tapestry representing Poseidon and Anfitrite and surrounded by a colourful array of fish.


Eros and Psyche is, of course, the dominant myth, but Apollo and Daphne are also  represented, together with Bacchus and Arianna, Artemis and Atteone, Pan and Siringa, as well as those ambiguous passions involving gods and mortals such as Ciparisso, Adone, Giacinto, and the tragic love stories of Ero and Leandro and Piramo and Tisbe, which have nourished imagination and literature for centuries. Ovid’s Metamorphosis also proved to have a leading role in inspiring paintings and sculptures, such as the amazing transformations of flirting Zeus hunting Europa, Danae or Leda, which have provided many an artist with the opportunity to depict saucy situations to erotically gratify his patrons.


On the whole, this is a delectable and enticing exhibit, revealing Eros as always being the driving force of human life, and how erotic art can be elegantly captivating in a poetic manner.

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