Apollo rincorre Dafne

Giambattista Tiepolo

National Gallery of Art


Throughout his career Tiepolo painted small pictures of mythological themes, which proved extremely popular. The subjects of these works came from the best-known episodes from ancient literature, but his conception of the stories was varied and original. His depiction of Apollo and Daphne comes directly from Ovid's Metamorphoses. Daphne, the beautiful nymph and follower of the chaste goddess Diana, was pursued by the sun god Apollo, who had been struck by Cupid's golden arrow of love. Fleeing Apollo, Daphne reached her father, the river god Peneus, seen here at left. To avoid Apollo's unwanted advances, she was turned into a laurel tree. The transformation takes place before us as her leg turns into a trunk and her arms sprout branches. The Apollo and Daphne is unique among interpretations of the theme. Apollo's forward thrust seems to propel Daphne backward in a composition of excited movement. Cupid takes cover from the wrath of Apollo that will shortly ensue, and Peneus remains firmly rooted in an effort to stop the ardent pursuer. The off-center composition, typical of Venetian art, was used by Tiepolo elsewhere but never in such a dramatic and emotionally intense manner.