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Psyche Behind the Scenes

Psyche Gathering the Golden Wool print

 

The Artist

The only apparent signature on the print is “Ant. Sal. exc.,” which is the monogram of Antonio Salamanca, a book and print publisher with a shop in the Campo dei Fiori, Rome where he is documented 1505-63.  Salamanca was known to have acquired other artists’ plates, and reproduced older prints with his own signature. The majority of Salamanca’s prints are attributed to Raimondi’s workshop, and sixty are attributed to an anonymous artist called “the Master of the Die.” The artist was active in Rome from 1530-60, and judging by the style was the most likely artist of the print. The lack of a signature makes it difficult to confirm the true author of this image.

Question: What was life like for an artist-printmaker in sixteenth century Rome?
Answer: Full of rivalry and murder

The Researcher

Michelle Messer majored in Art History and received her B.A. from James Madison University in 2010. She is now completing a Master’s program in American Decorative Arts and Material Culture at Bard College. She researched this print in fall 2009 and produced the following catalog entry:

“Psyche Gathering the Golden Wool” (after Raphael) from La Favola di Psiche, engraving, Agostino Musi Veneziano and the Master of the Die, Rome, 1530-1560. (Madison Art Collection 76.1.0970)

The print Psyche Going to Seek the Golden Wool was produced as plate twenty-three in a series entitled, “The Fable of Psyche,” which was derived from the Roman novel Metamorphoses or the Golden Ass by Apuleis.  The mythological subject depicts one of the labors Psyche must perform in order to become Cupid’s divine spouse on Mount Olympus. In the foreground, Venus orders Psyche to seek wool from a flock of golden sheep. In the center, she crosses the river and a riverweed instructs her to wait until the sheep fall asleep to avoid being attacked by the poisonous animals. On the far right, Psyche succeeds in gathering the golden wool from the brush while the flock sleeps around her. The double scroll along the bottom edge reads, “Oltra que fiume a quel gran boscho ombroso/Percore son che il vello han d’oro lucente/ Portamino fiocco di quello lanoso/ Vener le le dice, e ella na dolente/ Volenasi annegar, ma dal pietoso/Dir d’una canna instrutta poi si pente/ Dorme lagregge al mezzo di passato/ Cosi l’oro coglie ella ai spini lasciato.” (Beyond that river in the dark wood/There are sheep with golden, shining fleece/ Bring me a handful of that wool/ Venus told her, and she laments/ She wants to refuse the task/ but taking pity on her a river weed tells her/ the flock will fall asleep at mid-day/ Thus gather the golden wool left in the prickly bushes.) The text is from the vernacular poem La Favola di Psiche written by the Ferrarese poet and courtier, Niccolo da Correggio in 1491. Psyche Going to Seek the Golden Wool was influenced by Raphael’s depictions of the myth in the Villa Farnesina, Rome, and disseminated in popular culture through a series of prints attributed to followers of Raphael, Agostino Musi Veneziano and the so-called “Master of the Die.”

The fable of Cupid and Psyche became popular around 1450 with the rediscovery of Apuleius’text of The Golden Ass, which was written initially in the second century, but reappeared in Italy in the fourteenth century; several Latin editions were printed in Rome after 1469.[1] Apuleius states at the beginning that he is telling this story to give courage to a woman who has been kidnapped. He then relates a long, involved tale of the trials and tribulations of Psyche, who was punished by Venus for her beauty. When Venus’ son Cupid falls in love with Psyche, numerous complications arise. Several authors translated the Apuleius text into Italian, and derived poems from the original prose. The best known was Niccolo da Correggio’s Favola di Psiche, dedicated it to Isabella d’Este in 1491, and published in Venice in 1510.[2] It is this poem that appears in the cartouches at the bottom of each print, and the series helped introduce the myth into vernacular literature.[3]

In 1516 Raphael and his workshop began painting this theme in the Loggia of Psyche in the Villa Farnesina.[4] The patron was Agostino Chigi, an extremely wealthy Sienese banker (arguably the richest man in Europe at this time) who also commissioned the printing of ancient Greek texts. This may explain his interest in mythological subjects as decoration for his new suburban villa.[5] Raphael is credited with the designs, but his workshop, including Giulio Romano, Giovanni da Udine, Raffaello dal Colle, and Giovanni Francesco Penni, painted most of the frescoes. The female nudes, such as the figures of Venus, Ceres and other goddesses, are reputed to have been modeled after Raphael’s mistress. The final climatic scenes were placed on the ceiling, Council of the Gods and the Wedding Banquet of Cupid and Psyche, with eight smaller scenes in the spandrels. More episodes in the story were intended for the lunettes.[6] Although John Shearman attempted to reconstruct the lost scenes, since few of Raphael’s drawing studies survive, it is difficult to confirm that the prints are based on his work.[7]

The Cupid and Psyche print series has been attributed to several artists, but the most frequently cited names are Bernardo Daddi (Dado), or Master of the Die, and Agostino Musi Veneziano.[8] The Master of the Die is an anonymous engraver whose prints typically are denoted by a small die with the letter “B” inside. He worked in Marcantonio Raimondi’s workshop and has been identified as Benedetto (or Bernardo) Verino, Dado, or Daddi.[9] Another possible identification is Tomaso Vincidor, a member of Raphael’s workshop. The only apparent signature on the print is “Ant. Sal. exc.,” which is the monogram of Antonio Salamanca, a book and print publisher with a shop in the Campo dei Fiori, Rome where he is documented 1505-63.  He was known to have acquired other artists’ plates, and reproduced older prints with his signature.[10] The majority of Salamanca’s prints are attributed to Raimondi’s workshop and sixty are attributed to the Master of the Die. The Master of the Die was active in Rome from 1530-60, which makes him the most likely artist of the print.[11] The lack of a signature, however, makes it difficult to pinpoint the true artist of the print.[12] 

Because of its association with Raphael, the Cupid and Psyche prints were often reproduced. Several museums have the Psyche Going to Seek the Golden Wool or other scenes from the series, such as the Chicago Institute of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Vatican Library, and the Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco. The Vatican Library catalog lists five editions of this print, including a larger reprint by Carlo Losi in 1774.[13] Most museums attribute the prints to the Master of the Die, but some prints in the Vatican Library are attributed to Agostino Veneziano or Michiel Coxcie. The Psyche Going to Seek the Golden Wool serves as an indicator of the widespread diffusion of Renaissance prints and demonstrates the popularization of mythological iconography that originated with the translation of ancient Roman texts. (Michelle Messer)


[1] Julia Haig Gaisser, The Fortunes of Apuleius and the Golden Ass: A Study in the Transmission and Reception, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); P. G.Walsh, trans. Apuleius The Golden Ass, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); Stephen J. Campbell, “Eros in the Flesh: Petrarchan Desire, the Embodied Eros, and Male Beauty in Italian Art, 1500-1540,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 35:3, (Fall 2005): 629-662; Louisa Vertova, “Cupid and Psyche in Renaissance Painting Before Raphael,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 42 (1979): 104-121; James Tatum, Apuleius and The Golden Ass (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979).

[2] On Niccolo da Correggio, see Stephen J. Campbell, “Eros in the Flesh: Petrarchan Desire, the Embodied Eros, and Male Beauty in Italian Art, 1500-1540,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 35:3, (Fall 2005): 645-650; Stephen J. Campbell, The Cabinet of Eros: Renaissance Mythological Painting and the Studiolo of Isabella d’Este (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), 104-106.

[3] Luisa Vertova, “Cupid and Psyche in Renaissance Painting before Raphael,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtald Institutes 42 (1979): 104-121. 

[4] On Villa Farnesina, see John Shearman, “The Organization of Raphael’s Workshop,” Art Institute of Museum Studies 10 (1983): 40-57; Stephen J. Campbell, “Eros in the Flesh: Petrarchan Desire, the Embodied Eros, and Male Beauty in Italian Art, 1500-1540,” Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 35:3, (Fall 2005): 645-650; Nicholas Penny, “Raphael [Santi, Raffaello; Sanzio, Raffaello]” Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com (accessed September 15, 2009);

[5] Mythological subjects were highly popular for villa decoration during the Renaissance, which is another possible reason for Chigi’s choice.

[6] John Shearman, “The Organization of Raphael’s Workshop,” Art Institute of Museum Studies 10 (1983): 40-57; Joanne G. Bernstein, “The Female Model and the Renaissance Nude: Durer, Giorgione, and Raphael,” Artibus et Historiae 13, No. 26 (1992), 49-63

[7] Vertova, “Cupid and Psyche;” Nicholas Penny, “Raphael [Santi, Raffaello; Sanzio, Raffaello]” Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com  (accessed September 15, 2009); Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, “Musi, Agostino dei [Agostino Veneziano],” Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com (accessed September 15, 2009).

[8] “The Psyche engravings, which actually number thirty-three, are by the Master of the Die, with the exception of the fourth, seventh, and thirteenth in the series, which are by Agostino Veneziano.”

[9] Master of the Die,” Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com (accessed September 15, 2009);

[10] Antonio Salamanca printed in Rome from 1538 to 1562, but he partnered with a French publisher, Antoine Lafrery in 1553 and Lafrery acquired many of his plates after his death in 1562, indicating that the plate could have been reproduced later.

[11]Another possibility is the French artist, Michiel Coxcie, who designed prints for the series as well and is cited in the Vatican library as the artist/influence in some of the later prints.

[12] Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, “Antonio Salamanca,” Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com (accessed September 15, 2009); Louise S. Milne, “Masters, Anonymous, and Monogrammists: Master of the Die,” Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com (accessed September 15, 2009); Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, “Musi, Agostino dei [Agostino Veneziano],” Oxford Art Online, http://www.oxfordartonline.com (accessed September 15, 2009); Achim Gnann and Domenico Laurenza, “Raphael’s Influence on Michiel Coxcie: Two New Drawings and a Painting,” Master Drawings 3: (Autumn 1996): 292-302.

[13] The Vatican prints range in size from 170 x 230 mm (the most common size for the 16th century prints) to 580 x 450 mm. One state six series printed in 1774 measures 290 x 410mm. The print in the Madison Art Collection measures 230 x 250 mm (Vatican Library, online catalog).