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Pietro Antonio Novelli

(1729–1804, Venice)

Mercury Leads Psyche to Mount Olympus. Pen and black and some brown ink, grey wash. 37.6 x 48 cm. Circa 1781.

This charming scene depicts an episode from the history of Amor and Psyche by Apuleius (Metamorphoses, Books 4–6). The drawing reproduces the central quadro riportato which Pietro Antonio Novelli painted in 1781 for the Stanza di Psiche in the Villa Borghese in Rome. The depiction is of the moment supreme in the story in which Psyche, accompanied by Mercury, is welcomed into Mount Olympus. Jupiter points nonchalantly to the magic potion in Ganymede’s hand that will give Psyche immortality and enable her to marry Amor. In addition to the main ceiling painting Novelli painted four framing medallions illustrating further episodes in the story. In executing the cycle he drew inspiration from the famous prototype by Raphael in the Villa Farnesina in Rome. Although Novelli produced compositions of his own, his painting was strongly influenced by Raphael’s classicism. Born in Venice and trained there by Jacopo Amigoni, Novelli worked between 1779 and 1782 in Rome, where he attracted the attention of Prince Marcantonio Borghese, who commissioned him to paint the Stanza di Psiche.

The drawing has been executed in the flowing, elegant style that is the hallmark of Novelli’s work. The gods, full of self-confidence and completely at their ease, are enthroned in the clouds. The subtly gradated washes produce soft, delicate transitions and bathe the scene in a mild light. The entire depiction emanates an untrammelled joie-de-vivre and is infused with poetic serenity. The very detailed execution of the drawing is an indication that this is a ricordo rather than a preparatory study.

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