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Landscape with a Scene of Enchantment
Paolo Fiammingo
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A maze or rocky grotto looks out over a cloudy mountainous landscape and meandering river. A turbaned man plays a lute by torchlight as three others embrace bizarre hybrid women. One has a serpent for a tail, another has the face of a pig, a third has the head of a reptile. Two turbaned figures, emerging from the maze, embrace and talk to one another, while a naked bearded man lies sleeping near the edge of a cliff. At the top of the picture another naked figure seems to slide into the clouds. The very specific elements in this scene suggest that it illustrates a particular story, although we do not know which.

This and another National Gallery picture, Landscape with the Expulsion of the Harpies, may once have been part of a series of paintings intended to cover the upper walls of a whole room in a Venetian palace.

Key facts
Artist Paolo Fiammingo
Artist dates about 1540 - 1596
Full title Landscape with a Scene of Enchantment
Group Two Scenes from the Argonautica
Date made about 1590
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 185 x 206.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1944
Inventory number NG5466
Location in Gallery Gallery A: Paintings 1250-1600
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Two Scenes from the Argonautica

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These two very large canvases may once have been part of a series of perhaps six or more paintings which would have decorated the walls of a whole room in a Venetian palace, like wallpaper today. They were painted hastily using only a limited range of colours, which may be because they were intended as interior decoration rather than as gallery pictures.

Landscape with the Expulsion of the Harpies illustrates a scene from the Argonautica, an epic romance written by Apollonius Rhodius in the third century BC. The hybrid women in Landscape with a Scene of Enchantment could be beastly followers of Circe also described in the Argonautica (Book IV) and the sleeping man may be Odysseus. The very specific elements in this scene suggest that it illustrates a particular story, although we do not know which one.

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