Three Graces (Raphael)
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The figurative powers which Raphael developed in Florence led to a more synthetic conception of form and a refinement of intellectual expression, which is visible in the paintings of Knight's Dream and the Three Graces.
Critics believe that the two panels may have formed a single diptych presented to Scipione di Tommaso Borghese at his birth, in 1493 The theme of the paintings may by drawn from the Latin poem Punica by Silius Italicus, which was well known in antiquity and which humanistic culture restored to fame. In the first panel, Scipio, the sleeping knight, must choose between Venus (pleasure) and Minerva (virtue); in the second, the Graces reward his choice of virtue with the Golden Apples of the Hesperides. Classical themes were treasured by contemporary Florentine patrons. The composition is dominated by a sense of great harmony.
Three Graces are the personification of grace and beauty and the attendants of several goddesses. In art, they are often the handmaidens of Venus, sharing several of her attributes such as the rose, myrtle, apple and dice. Their names according to Hesiod (Theogony 905) were Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia. They are typically grouped so that the two outer figures face the spectator, and the one in the middle faces away. This was their antique form, known and copied by the Renaissance.
The group has been the subject of much allegorising in different ages. Seneca (De Beneficiis, l.3:2) described them as smiling maidens, nude or transparently clothed, who stood for the threefold aspect of generosity: the giving, receiving, and returning of gifts or benefits: ut una sit quae det beneficium, altera quae accipiat, tertia quae reddat. The Florentine humanist philosophers of the 15th century saw them as three phases of love: beauty, arousing desire, leading to fulfillment; alternatively, as the personification of Chastity, Beauty and Love, perhaps with the inscription "Castitas, Pulchritudo, Amor."
The Three Graces is Raphael's first study of the female nude in both front and back views. However, it was probably not based on living models, but either directly or indirectly on the classical sculpture group of the Three Graces in the Piccolomini Library of the Duomo of Siena.
Also see three other versions:
- Francesco Cossa's panel in Allegory of April (c 1450)
- Botticelli's classic evocation (1482) in Primavera
- Jacopo Pontormo's later mid 16th century mannerist treatment