Pietro Perugino - Apollo and Marsyas

by Alexandra Tuschka


The flute playing of Marsyas does not seem to impress Apollo that much. Deprecatingly, he lowers his gaze; bored, he props his arm at his side.

The finely crafted stringed instrument next to him is the lyre, the ancestral attribute of the sun god. This posture is a quotation from an ancient sculpture of Hermes by Praxiteles. Thus Perugino, in addition to his choice of subject, demonstrates knowledge of ancient culture through this adaptation.


The flute playing of Marsyas does not seem to impress Apollo that much. Deprecatingly he lowers his gaze; bored he rests his arm at his side. The finely crafted stringed instrument next to him is the lyre, the ancestral attribute of the sun god. This posture is a quotation from an ancient sculpture of Hermes by Praxiteles. Thus Perugino, in addition to his choice of subject, demonstrates knowledge of ancient culture through this adaptation.


The figure on the left is also based on an ancient statue of Lysippos. The man has lowered his head and is completely absorbed in playing the flute. We do not find Marsyas as a satyr as we know him here - the horns and the hairy legs are missing. Therefore, it can be speculated whether we are dealing here with Daphnis, the inventor of the bagpipe and the shepherd's song. More likely, however, we are dealing with the popular image subject of the contest between Marsyas and Apollo. The harsh death sentence that will befall Marsyas as the loser of this contest is not yet seen here. For as punishment Apollo hanged Marsyas and scraped the skin from his body with a double bone. Here the procession of birds rather speaks for a certain idyll.


Pietro Perugino - Apollo and Marsyas

Oil on canvas, 1483, 29 x 39 cm, Musée du Louvre in Paris

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