The Striding Nymph in Mannerism III


Altti Kuusamo


The Striding Nymph in Mannerism III


”Accessories in Motion” and Their Symbols:  Dionysian Themes and Sacrifices


When we expect the great unveiling (–), we just find more symbols.

                                                                                    Darian Leader 2002, 80.


Salviati and Dionysian sarcophaguses

Francesco Salviati who was Florentine by his birth has always seemed to be enigmatic for his self-erudition and his taste for antiquities: until recently we have been uncertain of his ways to adapt antique relieves.  References in his many paintings do not open easily. Many models or shall we say, many schemes of the poses of his paintings has to be approached  as carefully, as poignantly as when playing puzzle: some pieces derive from antiquity, some from two earlier centuries. Iris Cheney marked that the female figure in Salviatin fresco The Birth of St. John  the Baptist (1551, Oratorio di San Giovanni Decollato, Rooma; Image 1) who offers the doves to St. Elizabeth luing in the bed, may wtih a good reason be derived to the figure in the antique sarcophagus of County Museum (Los Angeles) (Cheney 1963, 241, note 250).[1] This discovery does not seem to be without relevance although the pose is quite ordinary in Salviati’s oeuvre. Salviati quotes everybody and everything, even his former pictures. Especially his relationship to antiquity is a challenging chapter in the rhetoric of the indirect way of making quotations and thematic in the mid-cinquecento (eg. Rubin 1987, 90-91; Nova 1992, 95-99).[2] However it is not coincidence that also in this case the figural pose has been taken from the Dionysian sarcophaguses.

We can form a hypothesis: Quotations from Dionysian sarcophaguses were in favour in the paintings dating from early 16th century and thereafter, especially those which depicted the birth of Mary and John the Baptist – especially those dealing with the early childhood of Dionysius. We have to ask: is it possible that ancient pagan images of early childhood could resonate in the pictures of the Christian birth chamber, especially those dealing with the birth of Dionysus? We don’t know many Roman sarcophagi from the mid-sixteenth century which refer to the birth of Dionysus. Yet we know that even at that time the vocabulary of the birth of Dionysius was very accurate. And really, this vocabulary became even more refined in the later times.  This also means that according to later excavations and findings this vocabulary refer to a certain structure which in the course of time, long after the Renaissance, in accordance with later findings of some sargohagi, has become more evident.

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