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Agostino Carracci, Cephalus carried off by Aurora in her Chariot

Key facts
Full title Cephalus carried off by Aurora in her Chariot
Artist Agostino Carracci
Artist dates 1557 - 1602
Series The Farnese Gallery Cartoons
Date made about 1597
Medium and support Charcoal and white chalk (a grey wash applied later over the whole) on paper
Dimensions 202.5 × 398.8 cm
Acquisition credit Presented by Lord Francis Egerton, 1837
Inventory number NG147
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Cephalus carried off by Aurora in her Chariot
Agostino Carracci

A strong, determined woman is pushing a reluctant youth into a chariot on the left. This is Aurora, goddess of the dawn, who has fallen in love with a mortal, the hunter Cephalus. He resists her advances, for he is already in love with Procris, daughter of the king of Athens.

This is one of two large drawings made in connection with the ceiling decoration of the Gallery in the Palazzo Farnese in Rome, which was begun in 1597. The other drawing, A Woman borne off by a Sea God (?), is also in the National Gallery’s collection. The project, centred around the classical theme of the loves of the gods, was largely designed and executed by Annibale Carracci, with the assistance of his older brother Agostino. These large sheets represent the final stage of the preparatory drawings – the full-scale cartoons from which images were transferred onto the ceiling.

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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.