The Wallace Collection

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The Rape of Ganymede
  • Attributed to Vincenzo Danti (1530 - 1576)
  • Italian School
  • The Rape of Ganymede
  • Italy
  • mid 16th century
  • Relief
  • Copper alloy, with high lead content. Lost-wax cast. Cast in one piece, possibly directly cast.
  • Height: 20.4 cm
    Width: 33.8 cm
    c., Depth: 4 cm
  • S316
  • Sixteenth Century Gallery
Commentary
History
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • The composition of this relief is a very close copy of a famous drawing of the same subject made by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) in 1532 depicting the rape of Ganymede – a young shepherd loved by Jupiter and carried by the god to the heavens to serve as his cup-bearer. A version of the drawing, possibly the original by Michelangelo, is today at the Fogg Art Museum of Cambridge, Massachusetts. The drawing was very popular at the time, and was translated into a rock crystal engraving by Giovanni Bernardi (1496-1553). Both documented versions of the rock crystal engraving are lost, but their composition is known through bronze plaquettes, most of which seem to replicate the same version and present slight differences from our relief. A marble relief once in the collection of Lucien Bonaparte was originally attributed to Michelangelo himself. Now lost, the marble is documented by an engraving closely replicating the composition of our relief. The popularity of the theme of the rape of Ganymede during the Renaissance has sometimes been interpreted through Neoplatonic philosophy: Ganymede would therefore represent the human soul and his story be a symbol of platonic love. However, the homoerotic and violent charge of the subject, still evident in the aggression of the eagle, cannot be overlooked. S316 is a relief of great quality and impact. The modelling seems to have been made exclusively in the wax and very meticulously detailed with various tools and even a fine comb used to texturise the background. The relief has been attributed to Vincenzo Danti on the basis of context as well as stylistic grounds. Danti was a close follower of Michelangelo and considered him the greatest inspiration for any artist aspiring to master human anatomy. Danti trained in Rome in the 1540s and 50s, originally within the workshop of a goldsmith, and might have met Michelangelo at the time. Even without direct contact, he would have been surrounded by the master’s work in Rome and later on paid him tribute in his ‘Treatise of Perfect Proportions’ in 1567. Working in Perugia and Florence in the 1550s and 60s Danti became renowned for his bronze reliefs and seems to have preferred the oval format for these. The waxiness of the relief, the use of undercuts and the effort put into achieving a sketch-like effect in what was actually a very meticulously worked wax model (again deriving from Michelangelo) are all typical of his work.