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Agostino Carracci, A Woman borne off by a Sea God (?)

Key facts
Full title A Woman borne off by a Sea God (?)
Artist Agostino Carracci
Artist dates 1557 - 1602
Series The Farnese Gallery Cartoons
Date made about 1599
Medium and support Charcoal and white chalk (a grey wash applied later over the whole) on paper
Dimensions 203.2 × 410.2 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by Lord Francis Egerton, 1837
Inventory number NG148
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
A Woman borne off by a Sea God (?)
Agostino Carracci

A muscular sea god, with dragon-like wings sprouting from his hips, is carrying off a naked woman. They are surrounded by winged infants known as putti and a host of marine divinities, some of whom ride on dolphins. Cupid aims an arrow at the couple in the centre. This is a working drawing, or cartoon, for part of the frescoed ceiling of the Gallery in Palazzo Farnese, Rome. The project was largely designed and executed by Annibale Caracci, with the assistance of his older brother Agostino.

The ceiling shows stories taken from classical mythology based on Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and in particular the loves of the gods. However, we are not exactly sure of the subject of this cartoon and its fresco. The theme of the fresco facing it on the opposite side (the cartoon for which is also in the National Gallery’s collection) is unrequited love, but the woman in this drawing seems far from reluctant to be carried away.

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The Farnese Gallery Cartoons


These huge cartoons were made in preparation for the painted ceiling in the Gallery of one of Rome’s greatest Renaissance private palaces, the Palazzo Farnese (now the site of the French Embassy in Rome). In 1593 Odoardo Farnese, who had just been made a cardinal, opened negotiations to get the Carracci brothers to decorate the palace he had inherited the previous year. Annibale Carracci moved to Rome in 1595, and was followed by his older brother Agostino two years later.

The Carraccis frescoed the vault and end walls of the long narrow Gallery on the first floor of the palace, where the Farnese family’s extensive collection of antiquities were displayed. Packed with illusionistic architecture, sculptures and painted mythological scenes illustrating the loves of the gods, the ceiling gives the impression of being three-dimensional. The frescoed decoration in the Palazzo Farnese is rightly considered the Carraccis' crowning achievement and was widely admired both during their lifetime and afterwards.