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Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini (Venice 1675-Venice 1741)

Apollo c.1718-19

Oil on canvas | 165.8 x 66.0 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 405478

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  • Apollo, the sun god, stands in profile in a river landscape. He wears a laurel crown with a halo and a red cloak and holds a bow in his right hand. His left hand is raised in a gesture of surprise; he is probably witnessing the metamorphosis of the nymph Daphne, who was transformed into a laurel tree to escape Apollo's pursuit. Daphne appears in another painting by Pellegrini in the same series (RCIN 405498); it is not impossible that the two works originally formed one canvas.

    The painting is one of a series of twelve canvases of deities and mortals by Pellegrini which are all of good, autograph quality. Details of their early history and commissioning are not known, although they would seem to have been planned as a group, and were probably commissioned for an English mansion during one of Pellegrini's stays in this country (1708–13 and 1719). It is also unclear whether the series is complete. The poses of the figures suggest that the canvases were part of a decorative scheme, which was possibly arranged around three subjects; Apollo and Daphne, Pan and Syrinx and Diana and Endymion.

    Although it is unlikely to be a royal commission, the series probably entered royal possession at a much earlier date than is first recorded, perhaps because of the imminent destruction of a house for which the pictures were originally intended. One of the series, the Sleeping Endymion, is visible on the upper wall in Philippe Mercier's 'The Music Party' of 1733 (RCIN 402414), which shows Frederick, Prince of Wales, with his three eldest sisters in a room in the Banqueting House at Hampton Court, suggesting that the pictures entered the royal collection during the reign of Queen Anne. Another possibility could be that series comes from Norfolk House; in his 'Notebooks' Vertue mentions Pellegrini's work for Portland in the hall, the staircase and one or two of the great rooms, and the house was occupied by Frederick, Prince of Wales, from 1737 to 1741.

    From a set of fourteen decorative canvases, probably acquired by Frederick, Prince of Wales; first recorded, with the rest of the series, in the Cube Room at Kensington in 1818

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas


    165.8 x 66.0 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    174.0 x 75.0 x 5.0 cm (frame, external)