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Transformations of Nereids in the Renaissance Author(s): Kenneth Clark Source: The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 97, No.

628 (Jul., 1955), pp. 214-219 Published by: The Burlington Magazine Publications, Ltd. Stable URL: Accessed: 07/12/2008 04:35
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COLLECTION TINTORETTO. 52. Portraitof a Pesaro.Untraced. 5I by 45 in. D, E (IOI). F (I7). WAAGEN [1857], p.397 as 'portrait of a Procurator of St Mark's'. B.I. 1859 (I). 1899 sale (89c) to Martin Colnaghi, ?147. W 172. From the Pesaro Palace, Venice, according to E. with Figure. Museum of Historic Art, Princeton University; 53. Landscape Hermit or Poet. A, as purchased I931 for ?3 8s. B (35). C, D, E (36). [Summer 1942]. W I71. 1839 sale (50). Repr. Art Quarterly E claims from the 'Royal Gallery of the Poggio a Caiano'. The subject is probably St John the Evangelist,as stated in catalogue of 1839 Sale. TITIAN. 54. Portraitof Childwith Dog. In Loyd Collection, Wantage No.236 as Child of PandolfiniFamily with Spaniel, possible Bronzino. A, as purchased c. 832 from Strozzi Palace for ?241OS. B, C, D, E (4). Exh. Grafton Gallery, 'Fair Children' Exhibition, 1895. W i68. See Wantage catalogue [1905] where the picture is said to have been purchased at Sanford Sale, 1838.

47. 'Self Portrait'. Watney Collection. 331 by 29 in. Panel. A, as purchased c.I832. B, C, D, E (5). F (8). WAAGEN [I857], pp.396-7, as portrait of man, not self-portrait. B.I. 1839 (112); R.A. 1877 (279). I899 sale (88) to Waring, p934 Ios. See Catalogueof Pictures . . . at Cornbury and ii Berkeley Square[January 1915], compiled by V.J.W., No.59. W 135. Bought by Sanford from the Ricci family for I?84. 48. Portraitof a Naturalist(Fig.37). Formerly F. Holland Collection, Llandudno, as ?Bronzino. 1839 sale (96). W 127. What appears to be a splendid Mannerist portrait, not identifiable in Sanford's inventories and catalogues. A poor photograph, as in the F. Holland Collection, is under Bronzino in the Witt Library.
SCHIDONE, Bartolommeo.

49. Holy Familywith InfantSt John (Fig.33). Untraced. 13 by Ixo in. D (96). 1839 sale (i8). W 193. A similar picture (in reverse) belongs to Mr A. E. Popham. SEBASTIANO PIOMBO. DEL 50.'Portrait of Antonio Francesco Albizzi'. Art Museum, Worcester (Mass.), Salviati. D, E (8I). F (I5). WAAGEN [1857], P-397. C. and C., in [1912], p.253, listed as not seen by authors. B.I. 1847 (26); 1859 (4). 1899 sale (86) to Waring, ?210. W 173. There is no justification for regarding, as Sanford did, this portrait as of Albizzi, referred to by Vasari (Siena ed. vii, p.239), see R. PALLUCCHINI: SebastianViniziano[1944], pp.64-5. Catalogue, Worcester Art Museum, 1922, pp.36-7, repr. Zanobi. See Angelico. STROZZI,

51. Portraitof Galileo (Fig.42). Untraced. 334 by 264 in. A, as purchased c.i832. B (50). C, D, E (5I). F (I8). G (39). WAAGEN [1857], P.397. B.I. 1849 (140). Sold Christie's, i4th May 1920 (38) to Art Collections Association, 58 gns. W 60. From the Pandolfini Palace, Florence. A version with changes is: Torre al Gallo, Florence (Alinari 4502). Another in Lansdowne Sale, Christie's, 7th March 1930 (72).

55. Head of Woman.Lord Crawford. A, as purchased c. I832. B (24). C, D, E (25). Exh. Guildhall 1901. Loyd Collection, Wantage No.216 as 'Spanish School. Painterunknown'. Said to have been bought at Sanford Sale 1838. E says 'head of an Armenian Girl' 'from the Gallery Balduinetti', Florence. However, C and Wantage Catalogue say from Ceritani Palace. Paolo. VERONESE, Art Institute, Chicago (Gift of Mr and Mrs 56. St Jerome in a Landscape. Charles H. Worcester, 1947). D, E (I02). 1839 sale (I3I), ?23 2s. W 182. E says 'from Venice.' See WOUWERMAN. Rosa.



of Nereids Transformations
THE Nereids on Greco-Roman sarcophagi1 were, without question, the chief means by which the concept of the female nude survived throughout late antiquity and was handed on to the Middle Ages. Who invented these memorable figures we cannot guess, for the sarcophagi on which they occur are clearly derivatives from much earlier Hellenistic originals, probably in some instances from paintings of the fourth century. We can say, however, that Nereid figures appear to be drawn from two separate sources, which we may call the decorous and the abandoned. In the decorous (Fig.5I) they sit comfortably on the backs of their fish-tailed companions, sea-centaurs or hippo-camps, and turn to converse with them or look backwards with an air of pleasant detachment. They are for the most part half draped. In the abandoned type they are stretched out on their fronts, entirely nude, and often embracing a goat or bull with a gesture which leaves us in little doubt of their significance. Usually the two are combined, as in two famous sarcophagi in the Vatican (Fig.46), and occasionally other figures appear which seem to come from an entirely different context, as for example a sarcophagus in the Terme (R & R 56) which includes a Venus Anadyomene kneeling on her shell. Both the decorous and the abandoned Nereids were originally designs of great distinction and completeness. It was, indeed, this self-sufficing wholeness of form which gave them their
1 The only systematic study is in Die Antiken Sarcophagreliefs (Robert and von Andreas Rumpf, Berlin, 1939. Rodenwalt), Vol.v: Die Meerwesen, 214




long life, for they became almost like hieroglyphics, and even a modest artisan could use them as easily as if he were carving an alphabet. We realize how rich and inventive the originals must have been only when we see them revived almost unaltered in the works of Nicolas Poussin. From the first century B.C. to the fourth century A.D. the Nereid was simply part of a universal currency of decoration. No doubt her original intention as a symbol of the soul floating from life to death was never quite forgotten any more than an educated man is ignorant of the significance of Britannia on a penny. But on Coptic needlework or the ivory caskets of Alexandria the Nereid is chiefly ornamental. She is a form with agreeable associations, in which the stresses are resolved and enclosed, so that it can be included at any convenient point; and yet has a cursive outline so that it leads the eye on easily to the next unit of decoration. For this reason the Nereid achieved, in the late Roman empire, a wider diffusion than has been the lot of any motive based on the nude. Pieces of silver, embossed or engraved with these compact, desirable shapes, were sent to the barbarian perimeter of the antique world, and Nereids have been found in the most improbable places, in Northumberland and Baku2, in Ireland and Arabia. A Greco-buddhist carving in the Lahore Museum contains a Nereid almost identical with one in Grottaferrata, which was a favourite in the Renaissance. The most elaborate of all Dionysiac dishes, which is part of

Antike,Berlin [I929], pl. 6. Cf. L. Matzulewitsch: Byzantinisch








44. Aereid. Wall-painting from Stabia. (NaplesMuseum.)

45. Casketof Projecta.(BritishMuseum.)

47. Flying (;andharvas. (Gwalior.)

48. Triumphof Chastity,by Lorenzo Lotto. (Collection Rospigliosi Rome.)

to 50. Detail from A BlessedSoul earried Heaven,by Hans Fries. (Munich.)

5 I.

(Louvre.) Sarcothagus. J%ereid


Luxury,by Pisanello. Drawing. (Albertina )

by of 53. Creation Elve, Lorenzo Ghiberti. (Baptistry Florence.)







the Mildenhall treasure, shows the two types of Thiassos combined: the Bacchic, complete with familiar maenads and satyrs on the rim, the Marine, with Nereids, tritons, and a gigantic head of Poseidon in the centre (Fig.54). This extension in space involved an equally remarkable extension in time. A wall painting of a Nereid from Stabia, now in the Naples museum (Fig.44), which must date from the first century A.D., shows a pattern of the nude almost identical with one on the lid of the casket of Projecta in the British Museum, datable C.A.D.370 (Fig.45). One of the Nereids on the Mildenhall dish, which must date from the very end of the fourth century A.D., reproduces in reverse the same design as the recently discovered Venus at Pompeii (Region I I, Ins. 6, No.3) which is thought to be of the first century B.C. This is the form in which the Nereid makes her occasional appearance in the early Middle Ages, for example on the north portal of the facade of St Denis, where she takes the part of Virgo in the Signs of the Zodiac. The St Denis Virgo shows how a satisfactory shape may suffer a complete change of meaning. Yet when the Nereid appears again in the first revival of antique art in Italy, the finer artists perceived her true intention as a symbol of the liberated soul. It happened that in two contexts of Christian iconography this symbol was appropriate. The first was nothing less than a Christian expansion of the original antique subject, the ascension of blessed spirits in the Last Judgement. Of this the earliest example known to me is the painting in the Vatican Gallery (526) signed Johannes et Nicolaus pictores, a work of the Benedictine school of the late eleventh century, in which both decorous and abandoned Nereids appear in the character of soul bearers. Four hundred years later they are still present and have even penetrated the Gothic imagination, as on a wing of the large altar-piece by Hans Fries in the Munich Gallery (Fig.5o), where one of the decorous Nereids sits on the arm of an elegantly dressed angel her hair streaming out behind her exactly as if she were spinning across the sea on the back of a hippo-camp. But far the most interesting and imaginative use of the body floating into new life is that in which the Nereid is transformed into the figure of Eve as she is evoked from the side of the sleeping Adam. The idea seems to have occurred first of all to that lonely exponent of bodily grace in the fourteenth century, the sculptor who designed the story of the Creation and Fall on the facade of Orvieto Cathedral (Fig.49). We may now agree that he must have been the Sienese architect Lorenzo Maitani, and he would thus have been familiar with several sarcophagi, one of which was set over the doorway of the cathedral workshop in his home town.3 His Eve, of course, is flatter and less voluptuous than a Nereid, and instead of staring at her companion with level amorous gaze she turns her long, serious face to God the Father with an air of submission. But her derivation is unquestionable, and she has retained, with her actual shape, some of the dream-like quality of the original sea festival. Over a hundred years later Ghiberti, who was familiar with the sculptures at Orvieto, uses the same idea in the second door of the Baptistery (Fig.53). As a student and collector of antiques, he was able to give his Eve a more classical sweep than was possible in the preceding century. She is not derived from a placid passenger Nereid, but from

one of her more active sisters; and the source of her shape has determined her character. The Eve at Orvieto is modest and obedient; Ghiberti's Eve is bold, the first, perhaps, of all the proud naked beauties of the Renaissance. Ghiberti's Eve is taken almost directly from a sarcophagus in the Campo Santo (No.I Lasinio LXIV). There were, in fact, five Nereid sarcophagi in that collection and they were to prove generous quarry to artists of the Quattrocento. It is clear that in 1466 Mantegna did more than eat an honorific banquet in the Campo Santo. He made drawings of Sarcophagi IV and XXVII (Lasinio CXXXI and LXXII) from which he put together the design for the engraving of Marine Monsters B.I 7. He also drew the maenads on the sculptured urn, then perhaps the most famous antique in the Campo Santo (Lasinio LXI) whom he was afterwards to convert into the dancing Muses of Parnassus. It is even possible that Botticelli, who certainly knew the Campo Santo sarcophagi well, took the idea of the flying zephyrs in the Birth of Venus from two figures floating loosely embraced to the left ofa sarcophagus No.VI (Lasinio CXXXIII, R & R 68) although as always he made his own inspired interpretation of them.3 Although the Renaissance artists in general accepted the spiritual symbolism of the Nereids, a few of them recognized the unashamedly sensual character of the more 'abandoned' figures, and used them as emblems of physical desire. Two examples, from the beginning and end of the Renaissance, are of interest. The first is Pisanello's famous drawing of Luxury in the Albertina (Fig.52) where he has taken a Nereid pose, but redrawn the body from nature, giving it an evil thinness, a kind of Baudelairian corruption which is quite unclassical. The other example is Lorenzo Lotto's Triumph of Chastity in the Rospigliosi Collection (Fig.48). Lotto with his sensitive conscience and his preoccupation with religious reform, avoided pagan subjects and seldom attempted the nude. But here for once he has had to represent the Goddess of Beauty and Love, easing his conscience by showing her as the victim of an angry peasant Chastity. Partly because nude figures of this kind were unfamiliar to him (and we may be sure he would not have drawn one from life) and partly because he recognized in the abandoned Nereid an accomplished pattern of desire, he has taken the figure without alteration from a sarcophagus, probably from the one in the Vatican illustrated on Fig.46, for Venus' knee is cut off in precisely the same place, and her cupid is the same in reverse as one which flies above the amorous Nereids. Lotto's Nereid is exceptional. In the sixteenth century sea-nymphs and goddesses are no longer transformed. In Raphael's Galatea they become the subject of a masterpiece and thereafter they are one of the standard ingredients of decorative painting from the Palazzo Farnese to the Paris Opera. There was, indeed, in the floating ecstasy of what the Germans call Meer Thiassos some freedom from inhibition which made it the quintessence of paganism, so that even Wordsworth, fretting at the restraints of duty and the world, took it as his symbol of liberation, and believed that it would make him less forlorn to 'have sight of Proteus rising from the sea, Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn'.4
3 The conversion of floating Nereids into flying figures appears first in Indian art of the sixth century, cf. Fig.47. 4 The illustrations accompanying this article are from Sir Kenneth Clark's book, The Nude, to be published by John Murray in the autumn - Ed.

R & R 27. It is now in the Opera del Duomo.


54. Mildenhall Dish. (British Museum.)

reproduc 55. X-ray of Titian EcceHomo