Posted By whatsitworth on February 24, 2012
I enjoyed your article last week about the relationship between the Greek acronym for fish and the popular fish symbol seen everywhere. It made me remember this picture I grew up with of 10 dancing women. They are all labeled in what I think is Greek. I would appreciate any information you can give me.
I’m happy to report to you that your wonderful chromolithograph depicts Apollo dancing with his half sisters, the nine muses. The muses resulted from Zeus’ nine day love affair with Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. The muses are considered to be the inspiration for and cultivators of intellect, science and the arts. Each muse is associated with a specific cultural aspect.
From left to right you have Calliope – epic poetry; Clio – history; Erato – love poetry; Melpomene – tragedy; Terpsichore – dance; Polyhymnia – sacred poetry; Euterpe – lyric poetry; Thalia – comedy and Urania – astronomy. Apollo and his lyre dance between Terpsichore and Polyhymnia. Isn’t it wonderful that the ancient Greeks valued language so much that they recognize four different types of poetry?
The muses embody all types of learning and scholarship including language, mathematics, science, art and philosophy. They were associated with greatness: our English word “museum” derives from the Greek word for where the muses worship.
The original of your lithograph was painted by the Italian painter, fresco artist and architect Baldassare Peruzzi (1481-1536). Peruzzi installed religious frescoes in a number of cathedrals and private homes but also painted allegorical scenes. His Apollo Dancing with Nine Muses currently hangs in a former Medici home, the Palazzo Pitti, in Florence.
In the 18th century, Italian engraver Francesco Bartolozzi (1725-1815) studied painting in Florence and then travelled to Venice where he developed his painter’s eye as an engraver. He was able to perfect both stippling and the crayon manner of engraving which could pick up the delicacy of chalk drawings. He made little of his own art but produced dozens of engravings after other artists including Carracci, Cipriani and Dolci; it is likely that he saw Baldassarre’s painting of the muses when living in Florence and decided to copy it.
A century later, in the 1840s, chromolithography was developed as a successful way to produce multiple color prints. They were popular in the parlors of the new middle classes because they mimicked the look of fine paintings. So what you have is a nineteenth century color lithograph taken from an 18th century engraving of a 16th century painting. (If you’d like to take this series one step further, posters and even t-shirts printed with Apollo and the Muses are available on the internet.)