Categories: Paintings |

Orpheus playing to the Animals, by Benedetto Gennari (1633-1715).

Oil on canvas, 120cm by 137.25cm.

This is one of three paintings purchased by John, 5th Earl of Exeter (1648-1700), depicting aspects of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, (see its pair PIC393, also PIC467).

Orpheus attempted to rescue his dead wife Eurydice from Pluto, the god of the Underworld, through the exquisite beauty of his music, which nothing and no one could resist.

His wish was granted, but he defied Pluto’s orders not to look back at Eurydice as she emerged from the depths, and so, as warned, she was lost to him forever.

The 1738 Burghley Inventory records: ‘The Marble Saloon. Over one Door is Orpheus playing upon a Violin, a loose Garment flung over him, on one Side a Sheep, on the other Side a Boy, Birds in the Trees over him. Over the other Door, Orpheus coming to release Euridice, his Violin in his Hand, Pluto with a Key in one Hand, a Scepter in the other, Euridice behind in Flames, 3 Feet 5 Inches Square, each done by Genuro.’

The dog is mistakenly described as a boy.

This painting and its pair remain in the same positions today, almost three hundred years after the inventory was taken.

Gennari, who was born to a family of artists, studied in the workshop of the great Bolognese Baroque master Guercino (1591-1666).

His style was always close to that of his master and when Guercino died, Gennari inherited his studio.

In 1672, he travelled to France where he worked at the court of Louis XIV and for members of the French aristocracy.

Two years later, he was in London, where he became court painter to both Charles II and James II, painting allegorical and mythological scenes and portraits.

He also received commissions from their wives, Catherine of Braganza and Mary of Modena.


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