A s narrated in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the ancient Greek myth of Arachne tells the story of a young woman who dared to challenge the goddess Athena to a weaving contest. In case of defeat, Arachne promised she would willingly forfeit all and let Athena decide her fate.
When both contestants had completed their work, Athena was unable to find a flaw in the undeniably skilful tapestry Arachne had woven. She was, however, enraged by the content of the work, for Arachne had chosen to illustrate the stories and corruption of the wicked Gods.
Athena tore the work to pieces and struck the girl repeatedly until, overcome with despair, Arachne hung herself from a beam. Moved by compassion, Athena brought her back to life but fated her to weave forever in the new form of a spider.
In addition to the above work, Greek painter Nikolaos Gyzis completed one other known drawing and one oil (The National Gallery - Alexandros Soutsos Museum, Athens), both dated 1884. Though the works differ greatly, the expression replicated in all three is a focal point of each work. With magnetic and somewhat daring eyes, Arachne glances outside the scope of the work, awaiting her imminent punishment. Though her bare limbs are elegantly and delicately depicted, they are imbued with a sense of insect-like rigidity as she raises her arms to hold up her completed work which foreshadows her transformation into a spider. Her immobile limbs stand in stark contrast to her eyes which are filled with emotion and movement.
Having inspired numerous artists and intellectuals alike throughout history, from Dante Alighieri to Diego Velasquez, the myth of Arachne is a reminder of the duality of Eros and Thanatos, life and death, a dichotomy which was very much embedded in the work of the greatest symbolist artists of the time, including Fernand Khnopff and Max Klinger. By stripping Arachne of her clothing, scenery and props, as opposed to the other two known versions, Gyzis puts her crude nudity centre stage, transforming her into an seductive femme fatale, an immortal figure set to remind us of the fragility of life.
Arachne, by Nikolaos Gyzis, will be offered in our Erotic: Passion & Desire Online auction, 5-12 February 2019. We are currently accepting consignments for the sale.
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