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Penelope with the Suitors
Pintoricchio
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This picture, painted in fresco (directly onto wet plaster), was part of a series of eight which decorated the walls of the palace belonging to Pandolfo Petrucci, the ruler of Siena. He commissioned the frescoes to celebrate the marriage of his son to Pope Pius III’s niece. Two others survive in the National Gallery’s collection.

This panel shows an episode taken from the Odyssey, an epic poem attributed to the Greek poet Homer. Penelope was married to the Greek hero Odysseus, who fought in the Trojan war, but during his 20-year absence she was pursued by other men – seen here queuing up for her attention. She vowed that she would only remarry once her weaving was complete. She ensured that it never was by unpicking her daily labour each night.

The man seen entering the room carrying a staff – a symbol of a traveller – might be Odysseus; when he did finally return, he killed the suitors with his bow and arrows.

Key facts
Artist Pintoricchio
Artist dates active 1481; died 1513
Full title Penelope with the Suitors
Group Three Frescoes from Palazzo del Magnifico, Siena
Date made about 1509
Medium and support Fresco, detached and mounted on canvas
Dimensions 125.5 x 152 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1874
Inventory number NG911
Location in Gallery Room 53
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Three Frescoes from Palazzo del Magnifico, Siena

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These three paintings in fresco (painted directly on to wet plaster) once decorated the walls of a room in the Petrucci family palace in Siena. Each wall was painted with two frescoes, positioned on either side of a doorway or window. The ceiling, which can be seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, contained 20 frescoes of mythological scenes, divided by carved, painted and gilded stucco (plaster), produced by Pintoricchio and his workshop. At the centre was the Petrucci coat of arms, surrounded by flying putti (cherubs).

The frescoes were commissioned by Pandolfo Petrucci to celebrate the marriage of his son to the niece of Pope Pius III. The occasion provided an opportunity to show off his fashionable interest in classical history – through scenes from ancient Greek and Roman literature and history, the frescoes illustrate family values and the virtues important to marriage.

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