Agnolo Bronzino - Pygmalion and Galataea

by Alexandra Tuschka


In the vernacular, it is sometimes said that the best relationships are those where the man loves the woman a little more than she loves him. In the case of Pygmalion and Galataea, this seems to be the case. Agnolo di Cosimo - also called "Il Bronzino", is known to us today mainly for his numerous portraits. This episode from Ovid's Metamorphoses, however, thematizes the inflamed love of a sculptor for his sculpture.

Pygmalion was king of Cyprus. Although he avoided women, considering them vicious, one day he created a statue of ivory more beautiful than nature. So beautiful that he himself fell in love with her. He even took her to his bed and gave her gifts. He sacrificed a young cow to Venus on the day of the Venus Festival and asked that she bring the statue to life. Venus answered his prayer and lit the sacrificial fire. When he returned home from his sacrificial ceremony, he kissed the statue. At that moment, life was breathed into her. Later they got married.

Bronzino shows the animal sacrifice in the center of the work and the praying Pygmalion, who, in front of his statue, already brought to life, becomes the "an-between". His tool is no longer interesting, it lies carelessly on the ground. Unlike many other artists, he does not choose the studio, and the moment of the kiss or the coming to life of the beloved, but moves the scene to an outdoor space in front of a landscape.


The subject enjoyed particular popularity in Italy of the 15th and 16th centuries. It was an exemplary example of how artists could even surpass nature, and the subject fit into one of the main points of discussion of the Paragons: which is the higher art - sculpture or painting? In this subject painting was even able to bring to life a sculpture. Advocates of sculpture, in turn, often argued with the many-facetedness that painting lacked. Bronzino integrated this aspect by choosing three viewer vantage points. We, the sacrificial animal, and Pygmalion look at Beauty from different lines of sight. Typical of Mannerism, Galataea has elongated limbs, a slender neck, and slightly twisted twists of the body.


Agnolo Bronzino - Pygmalion and Galataea

Tempera on wood, 1529 - 1532, 81 x 64 cm, Gallery of the Uffizi in Florence