Mercury protecting Ulysses from the charms of Circe

Mercury protecting Ulysses from the charms of Circe by Ruggiero de Ruggieri - château de Fontainebleau - © RMN Grand Palais

Ruggiero de Ruggieri (documented in 1540 – 1596 (ca.))
H. 152 cm; L. 209 cm
Oil on canvas
Château de Fontainebleau, F 1995.9

Painting Gallery.

Homer’s Odyssey was a very important source of inspiration for the artists of Fontainebleau in the 16th century. Both Francis I and Henry II readily identified themselves with the valiant and cunning hero of Greek mythology. This painting is a copy based on one of the frescoes in the castle’s great Ulysses Gallery, decorated between 1540 and 1570 by Primaticcio and his team. Ruggiero de Ruggieri, a painter active in Fontainebleau in the last third of the 16th century, depicts one of the episodes painted in the gallery, known from a preparatory drawing kept in the Schlossmuseum in Weimar.

Ulysses, who is trying to return to his island of Ithaca, has just landed on the island of Aeaea, where he and his companions are greeted by a magician, Circe, capable of transforming men into animals. In the painting, several of the hero’s companions have already been turned into pigs, while the god Mercury, in the lower left corner behind a column, helps Ulysses by giving him magic herbs to protect him from the magician’s poison. On the right, Circe invites the hero to his table, and hands him a poisoned cup. Her trap fails and she is seen collapsed at the feet of Ulysses in the background of the work. Yet the conflict seems to quickly die down. Indeed, Ulysses and Circe are represented intertwined on a bed located at the top left of the composition: the latter has finally managed to seduce the king, who will stay a full year on the island before setting sail.

2004, Paris, Louvre Museum, Primaticcio, master of Fontainebleau.
1998, Château de Fontainebleau, Paintings for a castle. Fifty paintings (16th – 19th century) from the collections of the Château de Fontainebleau.

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