October 31, 2003

The Birth and Education of Dionysus

Some scenes from the birth and education of Dionysus:

Etching by Carloni of a Domus Aurea picture illustrating the birth of Dionysus.
The birth of Dionysus, son of Zeus and Semele. The young mother, wearing a diadem, rests on a royal bed, with draperies at her back. The basin will be used for bathing the new-born infant. The chiaroscuro effect gives the scene the appearence of a high relief. The figures have a very sculptural quality.
Etching by Carloni of a Domus Aurea picture illustrating the infancy of Dionysus.
Hermes is depicted entrusting the new-born Dionysus to the nymphs of Mount Nysa; Silenus was later to be responsible for his education. The temple column, on the left, aludes to the divine character of the child, while the bare tree on the right represents the wild nature of the myth of the god of wine. The nymphs who brought Dionysus up were subsequently transformed into stars: the Hyades.
Etching by Carloni of a Domus Aurea picture illustrating the childhood of Dionysus.
Scene representing the childhood of Dionysus. The young god is depicted riding a goat, together with another child, framed by a woman playing a drum and a shepherd.
Etching by Carloni of a Domus Aurea picture illustrating the youth of Dionysus.
Dionysus is seated between two dancing Bacchantes. The border is composed of bucrania surrounded by racemes on a pale yellow ground. The series is interrupted, in the centre of each side, by medallions featuring swans and, at the corners, by four different theatrical masks.
Etching by Carloni of a Domus Aurea picture illustrating the triumph of Dionysus.
The scene represents the Triumph of Dionysus, with the god seated on a throne under a tholos. He is surrounded by the four Seasons, more or less easily identifiable, while a serving boy offers him wine. The border is composed of vine tendrils peopled by winged figures alternating with masks. In the corners are pairs of putti holding helmets against a black background. In the centre of each side are pairs of Bacchantes.

I lifted the present images out of a larger selection of etchings from a 1776 folio by one Marco Carloni entitled Le Terme di Tito e loro Interne Pitture, that is, roughly, ‘The Baths of Titus and their Interior Decoration,’ The Baths of Titus ‘occupied the area just northeast of the Colosseum […] to the side of the Domus Aurea,’ and it is specifically the excavated interior of the Domus, the Emperor Nero’s grandiloquent palace, that is depicted in these etchings, which are close copies of the original paintings and decorations.

The Domus Aurea (Golden House), Rome (A.D. 64-68 and possibly later), was built or begun by Nero after the great fire in A.D. 64. It was less a palace than a series of pavilions and a long wing comprising living and reception rooms, all set in a vast landscaped park with an artificial lake in its centre where the Colosseum now stands. Most of it has largely disappeared - Sir Banister Fletcher, A History of Architecture.

The captions for each of the above pictures is taken, by way of the Galleria Trincia website, from the Franco Maria Ricci volume Roma Domus Aurea. Some other of Marco Carloni’s etchings are available to buy in poster form. For my own future reference, there is more about Dionysus here and here.

Posted by misteraitch at October 31, 2003 01:11 PM | TrackBack

Regarding the second image, Hermes entrusting Dionysius to the nymphs: what's with the lively baby on the hip of the nymph on the left and the other stiff-as-a-board baby being handled like cordwood by the nymph on the right? Which one is Dionysius? If the illustrations were realistic, I'd say that he's the cadaverous baby on the right because the other is holding his head up and clearly not newborn; but then the mummified baby's head isn't being supported, either, and judging from the posture of his mother I'd say that Carloni didn't know nuthin' 'bout birthin' no babies.

Posted by: Prentiss Riddle on November 4, 2003 04:59 AM
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