Anton Raphael Mengs (March 22, 1728 – June 29, 1779) was a German Bohemian painter, active in Rome, Madrid and Saxony, who became one of the precursors to Neoclassical painting.
This painting was a sketch for Mengs’s fresco of 1761 in the central part of the ceiling of the Villa Albani in Rome, commissioned by Cardinal Alessandro Albani. We see an excellent example of how Mengs overcame Baroque traditions and turned increasingly towards the norms of Neoclassical art. The whole painting is redolent with the influence of Raphael’s frescoes on the same theme in the Vatican apartment in Rome. In the centre is Apollo, or Apollo Musagetes, the Sun God, patron of the arts and leader of the Muses, with his attributes of a lyre, a laurel wreath upon his head and one in his hand. Seated to his left is Mnemosyne, mother of the Muses, and the Muses Thalia , Calliope , Polhymnia and Terpsichore . To his right the Muses Clio , Erato , Euterpe , Melpomene and Urania . Each Muse is depicted with her relevant attributes. Clio bears the features of Mengs’s wife Margarita, while Mnemosyne is a likeness of Vittorucchia, daughter of Countess Ceroffini.
Perseus and Andromeda
The Hermitage possesses one of the best collections of works by Mengs in the world, painted at different periods in his career. Of these works the most famous is Perseus and Andromeda, its subject taken from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”, which was exhibited in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome in 1777, where it was much admired by those who saw it. Mengs sought his pure artistic forms in the Classical heritage: the work is essentially based on two Classical cameos which belonged to the artist, both now in the Hermitage; the figure of Perseus was based on the statue of the Apollo Belvedere, and that of Andromeda was borrowed from a Classical relief in the Villa Pamphili in Rome. The ordered nature of the unfussy composition, the ideally correct drawing, the skilful sculptural modelling of the figures and the majestic rhetorical gesture of the central figure all indicate that the work was composed according to the strict canons of Neoclassicism, of which Mengs was a devout follower.