Raphael, Parnassus

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Crowned with the laurel of poetry and bearing the lyric lyre, the spirity of poetry is flanked by the words of Virgil:

Numine Afflatur ("Inspired by the Spirit"). Since her left arm rests on a (possible) bust of Homer, the book in her right hand may be a volume of The Iliad and The Odyssey.

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(Click the image for a lightbox view)

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Dante, Homer, Laocoon Sappho.jpg
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"The whole room shows the four areas of human knowledge: philosophy, religion, poetry and law, with The Parnassus representing poetry. The fresco shows the mythological Mount Parnassus where Apollo dwells; he is in the centre playing an instrument (a contemporary lira da braccio rather than a classical lyre), surrounded by the nine muses, nine poets from antiquity, and nine contemporary poets. Apollo, along with Calliope, the muse of epic poetry, inspired poets.

"Raphael used the face of Laocoön from the classical sculpture Laocoön and His Sons, excavated in 1506 and also in the Vatican for his Homer (in dark blue robe to the left of centre), expressing blindness rather than pain. Two of the female figures in the fresco have been said to be reminiscent of Michelangelo's Creation of Adam, Euterpe and Sappho, who is named on a scroll she holds. Sappho is the only female poet shown, presumably identified so that she is not confused with a muse; she is a late addition who does not appear in the print by Marcantonio Raimondi that records a drawing for the fresco."  -- Wikipedia

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Raphael was an admirer of Mantegna, and may have known this work, painting in Mantua in 1497 for Isabella d'Este. The treatment of Parnassus by the two painters, though, is radically different. For Mantegna, war and love (as embodied by Mars and Venus) govern the nature of the arts.

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