Lot 64
  • 64


100,000 - 150,000 GBP
125,000 GBP
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  • Glaucus abducting Syme
  • oil on poplar panel, in an elaborate Italian carved and gilt wood frame
  • 62.5 x 47 cm.; 24 1/2  x 18 1/2  in.


Private collection, France.

Catalogue Note

This characteristically taut and sculptural painting by Arpino is a recent discovery and is not known in other versions, unlike his often repeated versions of Perseus and Andromeda. The twisting body of Syme, with her hand raised above her head, finds close parallels in a red chalk drawing of a Sea Nymph and Tritons in Düsseldorf, Museum Kunstpalast, dating from circa 1595–1600 (fig. 1).1 The subject is rare – Glaucus' abduction of Scylla being treated more often – but Bartholomäus Spranger painted a well-known version of it, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

In ancient Greece Glaucus was a Sea God (his name in Greek means luminous blue-green and has given us the adjective glaucous), who according to Ovid had once been human, but consumed a magic herb he had discovered that brought fish back to life, which turned him into a Merman. In some Greek myths he is said to have been the son of Poseidon, and to have built the ship Argo for Jason and his companions, serving as steersman during their voyages. Among his amorous adventures was the abduction of the nymph Syme (Σύμη), whom according to Mnaseas he removed to an island near Rhodes now named Symi in her name.

Arpino certainly shared with his Mannerist contemporaries such as Spranger and Joseph Heintz a taste for subjects of satyrs and centaurs grappling with nymphs and nereids, although his paintings of these subjects are mostly later in date than the Düsseldorf drawing, and probably also than the present picture.2 Like Joseph Heintz, Arpino almost certainly drew inspiration from classical statuary in the present work, as well as in a later picture.He would also certainly have been aware of contemporary statuary by Giambologna and others. On the whole however, Arpino expressed erotic tension and delight in the female form more freely and successfully through the medium of drawing, so that this painting is something of an exception among his paintings for its wholehearted sensuality. A possible explanation for this is that the majority of his drawings of such subjects date from before 1600, while his painted output increased dramatically in the new century.

We are grateful to Professor Herwarth Röttgen for confirming the attribution on the basis of a photograph. 

1 Inv. FP 308, red chalk on paper, 175 x 198 mm.; see M. Simone Bolzoni, Il Cavalier Giuseppe Cesari d'Arpino, Rome 2013, pp. 60, 295, no. 166, reproduced fig. 47 (wrongly as black chalk).

2  See for example H. Röttgen, Il Cavalier Giuseppe Cesari D'Arpino, Rome 2002, pp. 416–17, 438, 460, 491, nos 177a, 177b, 206, 238, 277, all reproduced.

3 In a private collection; Röttgen 2002, p. 416, no. 177a, reproduced.