Art Reviews

Raphael, ‘The Triumph of Galatea’: The Apotheosis of an Extraordinary Saga


        When Raphael was commissioned to do this fresco, he was a bit perplexed. He did not paint subjects from Greek mythology. After scanning and conceiving many ideas, he was inspired from a poem called ‘La Giostra’ by the Italian poet, Angelo Poliziano. In this poem Poliziano recites, with a Tuscan dialect that Raphael would capture in theatrical color and mood in the painting, a tale of the beautiful Neried Galatea, who had fallen in love with Acis, the peasant shepherd who was slain by Polyphemus, a one-eyed giant who was Galatea’s consort. However, Raphael did not embark the whole of the poem as subject for this strident concord.

        The whole of the fresco centers on Galatea, who is perched on a shell chariot that is drawn by dolphins. (Dolphins were the messengers of Poseidon in ancient Greek myth.) All around her, there is intense chaos and passion. As she is desperately struggling to hold onto the torrid reins of the dolphins, her hair and drapery are being scolded by the stinging sea breezes that are piercing her twisted and passionate frame. Accentuated contortion and vehement determination is competing for influence. The movements by the sea nymphs are being met with an unseen resistance; however, Galatea continues in her quest for liberation. She is surrounded by deceit, temptation and mischievous oracles to win her devotion away from the others. Above her are putti who seem to marvel at her unfortunate situation, albeit in a harmless way. In spite of climaxes of chaos and rage, there is also replete imagery of balance and control on the scene as a whole. Behind her is a angel of some sort, perhaps Cupid himself who knows that, despite all of the tempestuous ways in which to acquire the devotion and loyalty of Galatea, her main focus is preserved in her stare. Her muscular frame and gaze stretch out towards heaven; this is her prize and she remains passionately devoted to her quest. She cannot be tempted by all the drama and temptation that surrounds her; this is why this is the perfect painting to achieve this meaning. She is surrounded by water that can drown her morality in an instant; but only is she succumbs to it. She refuses. Her gaze into the heavens is as sacred as eternity itself. The reward of her devotion is annunciated by the sea nymphs with blowing on their horns. Love is victorious in this painting; it has to be because it is the enchanted theme of the work.

        A careful selection of diagonals by Raphael is paramount to the results he wishes to obtain. The drawn arrows of the two putti above her on both sides draw an X when the eye connects them with the dolphin reins she struggles to hold; it is the center of this X which, by the hand of Raphael, complete the meaning of the painting. Love is the center of humanity. Without love, in the Platonic sense, all is vanity. Raphael is not ignorant of his renaissance manners either. It could be contended that Galatea is a Greek Mythology form of the Virgin Mary; she is clothed in red and is only focused on her proposal; she cannot be inveigled for the purpose of others. (Although Galatea is a myth about her cheating on her husband, the certitude she instills in her devotion is what is captured.) Perhaps, Raphael was obsessed with the irony of both stories of Mary and Galatea. In any case, what is demonstrated is universal. Humanity is entirely dependent on the existence of others and the exchange of intimacy and attention is unrelenting in its pursuit, regardless of consequences or rewards. The lauding of muscular human form and unseen soul is a remarkable obsession in use chiaroscuro that is intricately dancing with each precious scene and wave of animation. Raphael is a master of intermixing uncertainty and fortitude. But the charismatic investiture that he employs so gracefully gently exploits all the positive equations with a miracles and divine elegance, especially in an age where classical technique and Christian doctrine were the atoms of human preponderancy. Raphael has heedfully preserved our fears and sequels. Antiquity and Modernism is still in discussion.





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