Jacopo Tintoretto, The Muses, 1578, The Royal Collection, London, painting.
Antonio Zucchi, Apollo and the Muses, 1767, Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire, painting.
In Jacopo Tintoretto’s painting, The Muses, the nine Greek divinities are beautifully illustrated as inspirations of all the liberal arts and science, including song, dance, and poetry. The Muses consist of Calliope, the chief muse who presides over epic poetry; Clio, history or lyre playing; Erato, love poetry, hymns to the gods, or lyre playing; Euterpe, lyric poetry, tragedy, or flute playing; Melpomene, tragedy or lyre playing; Polyhymnia, sacred music or dancing; Terpsichore, choral dancing or flute playing; Thalia, comedy; and Urania, astronomy (Morford et al. 132). Tintoretto’s painting does not focus on individual Muses, but instead illustrates their great talent of bringing joy to not only the gods, but also to humankind through their art and performance. His tactic of painting a broad depiction of the Muses allows me to understand that it is more impactful when the divinities are illustrated as a group rather than as individuals.
As the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the Muses’ divine powers of revelation comes from the great knowledge of the supreme god and the ability to inspire from their mother (Morford et al. 59-60, 131). Essentially, their function is to know everything that has ever happened and to pass that information on to poets. This explains Hesiod’s declaration that he has received blessings from the Muses to write about their divine revelations which is presented in Theogony and Work and Days (Morford et al. 59). It is important to note when “Hesiod describes being picked out by the Muses, he seems to be making a particular claim to authority and truth for his version of the myths. And it looks like other Greeks accepted that claim” (La Fond 03:00-03:35) which shows the influences the Muses had on society.
The ideology that the Muses are supreme in their fields are depicted boldly in Tintoretto’s painting through “the large, strongly modelled figures, boldly executed with sweeping strokes, strongly lit from the right, and freed from a landscape setting, weave a coherent design of dynamic diagonal lines across the picture plane and into the picture space” (Royal Collection Trust). The painting focuses on creating an impactful image of the tremendous power and freedom the Muses represent through their strong figure and nudity. As the divinities have a range of associations, individual Muses are hard to identify which helps the audience to focus on the overall mood of the imagery rather than centering their attention on specific details. This includes the unclear detail of who the sun represents – Apollo or Mnemosyne. The idea of who it represents is less important, but rather the symbolization of the rays coming forth from the figure’s head and upon all the Muses is implying that Apollo or Mnemosyne is associated to produce the full effect of inspiration within the liberal arts. Furthermore, the range of musical instruments normally associated with the Muses is here reduced to the harpsichord, bass viol, lute, and lira da braccio (Royal Collection Trust). This reemphasizes how Tintoretto’s priority could have been the dynamic between all the Muses rather than focusing on the accuracy of the individuals.
Tintoretto’s choice in depicting the Muses as a group interaction is meaningful as the smooth transition from each Muse helps the audience to not lose focus from the fact that they are most powerful when together. Unlike other gods and goddesses who strive alone, the Muses is a group who each divinity contributes to bringing joy and entertainment. Thus, through Tintoretto’s broad depiction, there has been a newfound realization that to fully appreciate the works of the Muses, we must acknowledge that these graceful divinities form a supreme and undefeatable group.
The piece that we selected is called The Muses, now collected by The Royal Collection in London. It was painted by Jacopo Tintoretto in 1578, the medium of the artwork is oil on canvas, and the size is 206 * 310.3 * 4.6 cm. This painting depicts the Nine Muses and Apollo, muses’ leader (represented by the sun in the middle). They are all in different positions, holding an instrument, a book, or something else. In this article, I will analyze this piece from my own personal perspective, by introducing the myth, the back information, and stating my opinion.
The Muses, which means “the reminder”, the daughter’s Zeus, the god of sky and thunder, and Mnemosyne, the titan goddess of memory. They are the inspirational goddess of arts and literature. The textbook states “He mates with the Titaness Mnemosyne (Memory), and she gives birth to the Muses, the patroness of literature and the arts.” (Ch.5) The number of Muses was not originally nine, there had been three, four and seven Muses depicted by different authors throughout history. However, the Nine Muses are the most famous, and first records came from Boeotia, the homeland of Hesiod. Each Muses in this version are given different names and attributes: Calliope (epic poetry), Clio (history), Euterpe (flutes and music), Thalia (comedy and pastoral poetry), Melpomene (tragedy), Terpsichore (dance), Erato (love poetry and lyric poetry), Polyhymnia (sacred poetry), Urania (astronomy).
Tintoretto’s artwork is based on the manual of mythology by Vincenzo Cartari, Le imagini con la spositione de I dei de gli antichi, this source contains the Nine Muses, flowers, laurel, and palm leaves, however, it does not clearly distinguish each of them. Overall, Tintoretto depicted the muses nude, flying and turning with freedom, Apollo is represented by the sun instead of a real body. From the details, the audiences can guess that the muse in the center, who holds a stringed instrument (harpsichord or clavicembalo), might be Calliope; the one sits under the sun with a book next to her should be Clio; Urania is holding a globe and tablet; except these three, other muses left undistinguishable.
From my own perspective, Tintoretto’s artwork matches my imagination of the nine goddesses. He depicts the Muses very well, putting a lot of focus on the Muses’ position and movement. From the painting we can clearly see that the Muses seem to have eye contact or conversations between each other. Even though the painting lacks some details for people to distinguish each muse, it does not prevent me from feeling the holy, freedom and pleasantness of the goddess.
In The Muses, Jacopo Tintoretto depicts nine naked Muses playing music and dancing. Tintoretto used laurel and palm leaves and various musical instruments to identify them, and showed their freedom and willingness to bring joy and music to people and gods through their nudity and free dance.
The Muses are regarded as the symbol of all the liberal arts. The meaning of their names is "The Reminders" (Morford et al. 132). Their origin and number are quite controversial. However, the most widely circulated version is from Hesiod’s Theogony: The Muses are the nine daughters of Zeus, the king of gods, and Mnemosyne, the titan goddess of memory. Although they are all symbols of art, each of them is in charge of different fields: Calliope, epic poetry; Clio, history; Euterpe, lyric poetry; Melpomene, tragedy; Terpsichore, choral dancing; Erato, love poetry; Polyhymnia, sacred music; Urania, astronomy; and Thalia, comedy (Morford et al. 132).
Since ancient times, the Muses have inspired countless scholars. In Pieria near Mt.Olympus, Hesiod met the nine Muses and wrote Theogony under their inspiration, who vigorously praised these “Heliconian Muses” in the first hundred verses. The myth of the Muses reflects the great importance the ancient Greeks attached to art, and the image of the Muses has been widely used in literary works of various eras, for they often participate in the introduction of an epic or story:
Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns
driven time and again off course, once he had plundered
the hallowed heights of Troy.
When led by Dionysus, the god of wine, the Muses were portrayed as crazy and drunk girls. Later, Apollo, the god of music, became their leader and trained them to be as elegant as himself. Since then, the Muses have become a group of versatile, beautiful, elegant, and energetic young women, although sometimes they retaliate against their disrespectful challengers. Apollo, as an important character who has a profound influence on them, is represented as a sun in the center of this composition by Tintoretto. The nine Muses are under in the bright sunlight, representing that they are led by Apollo.
The Muses are rarely depicted in a naked form. In this artwork, their sacred, free and beautiful naked bodies are shown by Tintoretto with perfect brushstrokes. According to Carlo Ridolfi, in order to create these free, powerful, and flying nudes, Tintoretto made models with wax and clay and wrapped them in cloth to study the folds of the cloth on their limbs. He also used lamps and miniature house models to explore the shadows produced by light shining on their bodies. This technique came from the time when Tintoretto taught himself painting in his early years: He started by imitating Michelangelo's sculpture, copying the statue with wax or clay, placing it in a wooden box, lighting it with a candle through a small hole, and painting, so he could work day and night.
Items related to the Muses include various musical instruments in addition to laurel and palm leaf wreaths. In this painting, harpsichord, bass viol, lute and lira da braccio are beautifully portrayed by Tintoretto, who is a musician as well. However, in order to emphasize the Muses’ freedom, Tintoretto put more details on the Muses' body movements instead, which is the main purpose of Tintoretto’s painting.
Tintoretto has been exploring art for his entire lifetime. Although he was not taught by the great artist Titian in his early years, he learned painting on his own through unremitting efforts. At first, his paintings did not bring him any order, let alone wealth. Even so, he did not give up. Finally, his self-portraits and portraits made for his younger brother attracted people's attention and Titian's appreciation. The Muses is a masterpiece that combines Tintoretto's professionalism, artistic attainments, profound understanding in mythology and unremitting efforts.
Jacopo Tintoretto’s 1578 painting, The Muses and Antonio Zucchi’s 1767 painting, Apollo and the Muses both depict the nine Muses in very distinct ways. Tintoretto’s work was part of an art movement called Mannerism, which is considered a reaction to the classical ideas of the Renaissance, while Zucchi’s painting reflects Neoclassicism, which emulates the style that was popular during the height of the Renaissance (Hahn 82, Adam). The difference in these two portrayals of the Muses, who are considered personifications of the arts, represents art’s ability to express a wide array of human emotions, from the chaotic to the serene.
The Muses are the daughters of the Olympian Zeus and Titaness Mnemosyne, and while their number fluctuates, both paintings chose to represent nine, which is the number most commonly referenced in later Greek poetry (Morford et al. 131). They are patronesses of literature and the arts, and have the ability to inspire knowledge in poets; this connection to the arts, especially poetry, is why they are often associated with Apollo (Morford et al. 59, 132). Bards would often invoke the Muses at the beginning of their poems, giving credence to their claims (La Fond 1:46-2:33). Each Muse is associated with a different art form, with some of the arts that are shown in the paintings being comedy, which is associated with Thalia, tragedy, which is associated with Melpomene, and lyre playing, which is associated with several different Muses (Morford et al. 132).
The composition of Tintoretto’s piece adds commotion while Zucchi’s piece has a level of organization to it, and combined, these paintings present art as something with the potential to be both unruly and calm. In The Muses, Tintoretto places most of the action on the diagonal of the piece, from the bottom left to the top right, which draws the viewer’s eye across the entire expanse of the canvas; this creates movement and a sense of boundlessness to the piece. The painting is also asymmetrical, as is common in Mannerist paintings, with the sun slightly to the left, and most of the right side of the painting taken up by Muses (“Mannerism”). While Zucchi's piece does have some of this asymmetry in it, with an unequal number of figures on each half of the piece, overall there is still this sense of balance because collectively, the figures take up a similar amount of each half of the painting. Additionally, Zucchi painted identical dark green boxes in the background of each half of the image, which contributes to the symmetry and refined structure of the piece, reflecting his neoclassical art style (“Neoclassicism”). The paintings differ in more than just composition. In Tintoretto’s painting, many of the Muses’ bodies are contorted awkwardly, with their chests and hips uncomfortably facing in different directions, adding more movement to the piece. Further, to augment this extreme dynamism and add dimensionality, Tintoretto uses dramatic lighting to push certain parts of the figures to the foreground and others to the background. In Zucchi’s piece, the figures are almost completely lit up, as per the neoclassical style, and what distinguishes them from the green background is the warm colors that make up their skin tones and clothes (“Neoclassicism”). This results in the figures being completely in the foreground, which makes the piece significantly more organized and peaceful. It makes sense to depict the Muses both as energetic and uncontrollable, as in Tintoretto’s painting, and as elegant and gentle, as in Zucchi’s painting, because art has the potential to be both of those things too.
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