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Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - Apollo and Daphne

by Alexandra Tuschka

Well, what's going on here? Apollo reaches for Daphne and just at this moment her transformation begins. It is a metamorphosis that can also be found in Ovid's book of the same name. This was written in the first decade A.D. and experienced a revival in the Renaissance. A statue of Bernini of this theme was not only the epitome of a Baroque sculpture, its space-grasping, dynamic groundbreaking for many later artists. So also Tiepolo, who demonstrably had knowledge of this statue at least through images. 

Tiepolo chooses an unusual view: we, the viewer, see the scene in a slightly lower view. And then a back figure also sits in the way and slows down our view, and the forward movement of the two main figures. Little Cupid helps lift Daphne's heavy robe. 

The tragic story began with a derogatory remark by Apollo, who said to Armor whether he would prefer to leave fighting with weapons to adults. Little Cupid, always on the move with his love arrows, then took his revenge. He shot a glowing arrow into Apollo's heart, which kindled his love for the nymph Daphne. In her heart, however, Cupid shot a blunt arrow. This had the opposite effect. And so Daphne, who wanted to remain virginal and unmarried, fled from the emotional Apollo. When she realized that she could not succeed, she asked her father, a river god, for help. He transformed her into a laurel tree. But even then, Apollo began to caress the branches and twigs of the tree, whereupon it became coy. On being told that from now on the plant was sacred and should adorn rulers, the branches in turn nodded approvingly in the wind. 

Tiepolo anticipates this aspect, because Apollo comes here already with the laurel wreath, which plays on this scene into the picture. His face shows astonishment at the sudden transformation. Daphne still casts a glance back, but her body is already striving upwards as if in a leap and begins the transformation at the fingers. 

This theme is one of the most popular themes of the Metamorphoses. The dramaturgically grateful moment of the reversal of fortune has something tragic about it. Just as Apollo is supposedly holding Daphne in his hands, she is already slipping away from him. Artists usually solve this by depicting the moment just before this touch - usually only a few centimeters are missing to one-sided happiness. 

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo - Apollo and Daphne

Oil on canvas, 1743 / 44, 96 × 79 cm, Musée du Louvre in Paris


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