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The Transformation of Cyparissus
Domenichino and assistants
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A young man stands next to a dead stag which he has just shot with an arrow: his bow lies on the ground. His hands are flung up in horror, and greenery is growing from his fingers and head. This is the story of Cyparissus, a favourite of Apollo, who accidentally killed his own pet stag. He was so distressed that he begged Apollo to be allowed to mourn forever, so the god transformed him into a cypress tree, the symbol of mourning.

This is one of ten frescoes by Domenichino and assistants which originally adorned the walls of a room in a garden pavilion in the grounds of the Villa Aldobrandini in Frascati, near Rome. Eight were transferred to canvas and are now in our collection, and all show stories of Apollo, mainly taken from the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

The original detachment of this fresco from the wall was not completely successful and the upper, smaller portion containing the figure of Apollo is still in situ at Frascati.

Key facts
Artist Domenichino and assistants
Artist dates 1581 - 1641
Full title The Transformation of Cyparissus
Series Villa Aldobrandini Frescoes
Date made 1616-18
Medium and support Fresco, transferred to canvas and mounted on board
Dimensions 120 x 88.3 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1958
Inventory number NG6286
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Villa Aldobrandini Frescoes

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These large frescoes (now transferred to canvas) once decorated the walls of a spectacular pavilion in one of the great Italian Baroque gardens.

The Villa Aldobrandini in Frascati was rebuilt by Cardinal Pietro Aldobrandini, nephew of Pope Clement VIII, in the early years of the seventeenth century. Immediately behind the palace, he built a large classical pavilion and decorated it with fountains, statues and paintings. Domenichino’s frescoes – two of which remain in situ – were arranged around a room called the Stanza di Apollo, which also contained a musical fountain representing Mount Parnassus, the mythical home of the Greek sun god Apollo and the Muses. Based on themes drawn from the Greek myths, the iconographical programme glorified the triumph of the Catholic Church, and the role of the Aldobrandini family in it, emphasising the superiority of the intellect over the emotions.

Although Domenichino designed the pictures, much of the actual painting was done by assistants.

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