Greek hero Odysseus has finally returned home to his wife, the faithful Penelope, after battling the Trojans and enduring years of subsequent troubles. The lovers recount their adventures to one another deep into the night.
While Penelope lists the suitors she held at bay, Ulysses lovingly cradles her chin in a gesture of compassion and affection. The composition is based on one of 58 wall frescos of scenes from Homer’s Odyssey at the palace of Fontainebleau near Paris.
Unfortunately, the Gallery of Ulysses, Primaticcio’s masterpiece, was destroyed in 1738 after years of decay. Ulysses and Penelope is an extraordinary example of a style now called Mannerism, which followed the period of the High Renaissance from about 1520–1600. Mannerists valued artistic invention over the imitation of nature, often twisting and elongating the human form to make it look more elegant.
Likewise, they rejected the symmetry and clearly defined spaces of Renaissance painting for compressed spaces, jarring colors, and a feeling of instability. A striking feature of this composition is the group of small figures in conversation in the background., their lean silhouettes forming with the foreground group a contrast which in its dramatic quality recalls Rosso. Toledo Museum of Art.
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