If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

Raphael, Galatea

Raphael, Galatea, c. 1513, fresco, Villa Farnesina, Rome, 9' 8" x 7' 5". Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

Want to join the conversation?

Video transcript

(lively music) Dr. Steven Zucker: Rome gets hot in the summer, and the wealthy would build villas, that is, country houses just outside the city's walls. Dr. Beth Harris: We're in one of those retreats, the Villa Farnesina, and we've walked through a lovely garden. Dr. Zucker: We're in this long room that's open to the river and lets the breezes flow through, cooling the hot summer airing room. Dr. Harris: Framing the windows are decorative frescoes and scenes of Italianate landscapes; and on the ceiling, frescoes that tell us in astrological symbols the birthdate of the patron, whose name was Chigi. He's a wealthy banker who managed the financial affairs of the papacy, of Pope Julius II, who is just north, building a new St. Peter's. Dr. Zucker: I'm not sure that I would use the word "wealthy" for Chigi. I think "fabulously wealthy" would be more appropriate. The most famous painting in the villa is by Raphael: Galatea. Dr. Harris: Galatea was a sea nymph. She was chased in the scene by Polyphemus, the one-eyed giant who makes an appearance in Homer's Odyssey, but also in other mythic stories. Dr. Zucker: The painting by Raphael shows this nude who's got this wonderful tortion, that shows of Raphael's really superb knowledge of the anatomy of the human body. Dr. Harris: I think of this pose as so typically high Renaissance in its complexity. We can see this spyro twisting of the body also in Michaelangelo's slaves from about this time. She's riding on a seashell, being pulled by dolphins. Dr. Zucker: As if that wasn't enough, you have wind whipping to her right, so that her hair and the drapery is pushing out almost horizontally, to the right, whereas her arms are holding the dolphins' reins to the left; and so there's this wonderful accentuated tortion. Dr. Harris: I think you see that through the whole composition, of kind of pulling in one direction, and then pulling in another. If we look at the sea nymphs and sea creatures that surround her, they also seem to move out, pulling her in different directions. Dr. Zucker: Well, there are these different stresses. For instance, the nymph in the foreground is trying to move to her left, but is being restrained by that male figure. Dr. Harris: The figures in the background move in opposing directions. Dr. Zucker: For all that movement, this is not a baroque painting. This is a high Renaissance painting, and so there is still a sense of clarity and order. Dr. Harris: In fact, a kind of sense of a pyramid. Dr. Zucker: Galatea herself is framed by three groups of figures: you have the nymphs and the dolphins on the right; you have that angelic figure, perhaps cupid, in the foreground; the nymphs on the left. Then you have three putti at the top, each with their bows drawn and looking as if their arrows will be loosed on her. Dr. Harris: There really is movement and spiraling, but also, simultaneously, stability and balance. Dr. Zucker: There's also playfulness. Look up at the putti again, with the bows and arrows. There's actually a fourth, with a quiver, who's hiding behind a cloud, seeming as if he perhaps is scheming and planning this attack. Dr. Harris: Or maybe he's supplying the arrows to the other three cupids. The figures remind me of Michaelangelo. I mean, look at how Raphael is accentuating the musculature of Galatea, and also the back muscles of those sea creatures. There's real interest in physicality and musculature here that's very different from a similar image by Botticelli of The Birth of Venus, where we have a female nude rising from the sea. Dr. Zucker: And so, unlike the Botticelli, which is so dependent on line, there's real use of light and shadow, of chiaroscuro, here to really accentuate the musculature of the body. Dr. Harris: The figures have weight, unlike the weightless forms that Botticelli gives us. Dr. Zucker: Well, they also move through space in a way that Botticelli's figures don't because they're so flat and so decorative. Look, for instance, at the large male figure in the lower left, and the way his shoulder comes out towards us. That's not something that you would see in those more decorative paintings by Botticelli. So, I think we shouldn't be taking these paintings too seriously. I mean, they're a beautiful expression, of course, of the high Renaissance interest in the classical, but this is really about pleasure. It's about wealth and love. Dr. Harris: And those themes relate to the interest of the patron. Dr. Zucker: He has built this lavish villa that he can enjoy, and so can we. (lively music)