APOLLO AND DAPHNE – Dossi 1525
The painting preserved today at the Galleria Borghese in Rome, actually comes from Ferrara, and according to some critics it would have been made, perhaps by the same Duke of Este, for the Palazzina della Rosa, which Alfonso I had built for his new lover Laura Dianti, after the death of Lucrezia Borgia in 1519; while according to others it was actually in the castle of Ferrara. After the death of Dianti, the building passed into the hands of Cesare d’Este, who donated it to the Bentivoglio brothers. Before entering the Borghese collection, however, the painting had to be purchased by Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi, since he is remembered in an inventory of 1633, and we also know that Ludovisi also owned other paintings from Ferrara, donated to him by Olimpia Aldobrandini. Finally the work of Dosso would have passed to the Borghese with the will of Cardinal Luigi Capponi in 1659, which must have bought it from Ludovisi’s heirs. Most critics agree on the attribution of the painting to Dosso, while the opinions on his dating are different: Henriette Mendelsohn in 1914 retained it from 1517-1520; Peter Dreyer in 1964 and 1965 placed himself almost on the same line, hypothesizing a realization of the work in 1520-1522; he followed him in this dating Felton Gibbons; while Longhi, in 1973, confirmed his previous hypothesis about a dating to 1525-1530; the critics have subsequently confirmed in large part this dating to the late activity of Dosso, even if there are scholars who have resumed the hypothesis of an earlier dating, such as Freedberg and Alessandro Ballarin. Despite the inventories of the Borghese Gallery from 1693 to 1833, they recall the painting depicting Orpheus, it now seems evident that the subject of the painting is very different: in the foreground is a half-naked male character, partially covered by a green cloth, sitting, with an arm violet resting on the left shoulder and with the bow raised in the right hand, which he then just finished playing, but he also has a laurel wreath on his head, a traditional Apollo attribute, and above all, in the background on the left , we recognize a female figure that is turning into a tree. It is then evidently not of Orpheus, but of Apollo, who has just finished intoning a lament for the metamorphosis of his beloved Daphne, visible in the background. The transformation of the nymph seems to follow the traditional iconography, according to which, while he is still fleeing from Apollo at the bank of a river, which here stands out in the distance, and turns to verify how far he is, his arms already take on the shape of branches and the lower part of the body is confused, it seems covered with bark. While the character of Apollo seems to have been made taking Raphael’s Parnassus as a model. What is surprising, however, is the importance given here to music, and to Apollo as the god of harmony. After the transformation of Dafne into a laurel tree, depicted, therefore, almost as a background in the background, the god has no choice but to elect the laurel as a plant sacred to him, making a crown out of it, and to sing a song in memory of the beloved. This leading role of music, and the choice of a contemporary instrument, rather than the classical lyre, should probably be linked to the context in which the work was conceived: a context, that of Ferrara, in which the musicians were held in high regard, above all because of the passion of the dukes towards this art, a passion also demonstrated by the numerous musical performances that were held there, in which often a musician played Apollo and sang accompanied by the viola.