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Annibale Carracci, 'Marsyas and Olympus', 1597-1600

Key facts
Full title Marsyas and Olympus
Artist Annibale Carracci
Artist dates 1560 - 1609
Series Panels for a Musical Instrument
Date made 1597-1600
Medium and support Oil on wood
Dimensions 34.4 × 84.2 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1824
Inventory number NG94
Location Room 37
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Marsyas and Olympus
Annibale Carracci

A naked golden-haired youth sits on a rock, playing the panpipes; another set of pipes hangs from the tree behind him. An older bearded man sits nearby on the ground, his panpipes also hanging from a branch. This is perhaps the satyr Marsyas; the youth may be Olympus, described in classical sources as a composer, follower and occasional favourite of Marsyas. The musical theme is especially appropriate as this long panel is part of the case of a musical instrument, probably some kind of harpsichord.

The figures are based on antiquities in the collection of the powerful Farnese family. The original instrument was perhaps owned by Fulvio Orsini, librarian and curator to successive Farnese cardinals from 1558 until his death in 1600.

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Panels for a Musical Instrument


These three panels were originally part of an early keyboard instrument, or possibly a pair of instruments, and show scenes of music-making and drinking. Silenus gathering Grapes and Young Satyr gathering Grapes are probably from the inside of the lid, and would only have been seen when the instrument was open. Marsyas and Olympus may have also belonged to the lid of the keyboard or to some part of the instrument’s case.

They were painted by Annibale Carracci in the late 1590s, perhaps for Fulvio Orsini, classical scholar and librarian/curator to the powerful Farnese family in Rome. The designs for some of the figures are based on classical objects owned by the Farnese.