Daphne chased by Apollo and Transformed into a Laurel tree

Jacopo Robusti, detto il Tintoretto

Venice, 1519 – 1594

Oil on wooden panel, 153 x 133cm

Inv. 349

The Galleria Estense, Modena

This panel is one of sixteen octagons in a cycle illustrating Ovid’s Metamorphosis. In 1541 the panels were commissioned by Venetian banker Count Vettore Pisani to decorate a ceiling in Palazzo San Paterniano, Venice, for his marriage to Paolina Foscari. In 1658 his ancestors sold them to Duke Francesco I d’Este and thereafter they were  used as ceiling decoration in the Seconda Camera da Parata of the Palazzo Ducale in Modena.  Two panels were lost  

The remaining fourteen panels feature subjects from Ovid’s Metamorphosis (or, more accurately, from the 1522 vernacular version by Nicolò degli Agostini). 

The composition of these works was clearly influenced by Giulio Romano’s ceiling decoration in the Sala di Psiche at Palazzo Te, Mantua. A similar use of di sotto in su perspective and compact design demonstrates Tintoretto’s familiarity with the Lombard city. In-keeping with the artist’s distinctive style, the figures in the octagons exude a certain theatricality: gestures, poses and dramatic lighting are masterfully harmonised in this restricted space. Aside from the characteristic chiaroscuro, making the figures emerge boldly from the background, colour is the stand-out quality in these panels: the tonal use of colour is typically Venetian whilst its iridescent quality is reminiscent of Michelangelo. The great Florentine master’s influence is also noticeable in the majestic anatomy of the turning bodies and their precarious, agitated contortion.