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Perino del Vaga, Recto: Study for a Fresco in the Sala di Psiche in Castel S. Angelo: the Marriage of Psyche. Yale University Art Gallery.

Piero Buonaccorsi, called Perino del Vaga (Florence 1501-Rome 1547)

Recto: Study for a Scene in the Sala di Psiche in Castel S. Angelo: the Marriage of Psyche

Verso: Figure Studies

Recto: Pen and brown ink, brush and brown wash; verso: pen and brown ink 120 x 250 mm. 4 5/8 x 9 15/16 in.

Yale University Art Gallery

This is a compositional study for The Marriage of Psyche, a scene in the Sala di Psiche in the apartments Perino and his assistants decorated for Pope Paul III between 1543 and 1548. This was Perino’s last major project, and he died before its completion. Even before his death in 1547, much of the execution of the frescoes was delegated to Perino’s gifted staff, which included the young Pellegrino Tibaldi and Marco Pino. A study by Perino in the Cleveland Museum of Art for The Battle with Poros in the Sala Paolina — a scene painted by Marco Pino with fundamental changes — shows that Perino exercised the primary authority in design even when an assistant carried out the finished work. In the case of The Marriage of Psyche the fresco follows Perino’s drawing more faithfully, but lacks the brilliant freedom and expressive energy of the drawing. Similar compositional studies, which also match closely the dimensions of the present sheet, for other scenes in the Sala di Amore e Psiche are preserved in the Albertina (inv. nos. 13560 and 13561).

The scene is Psyche’s marriage procession, as told in Apulieus, Metamorphoses, IV.33-35. An oracle commanded her father, the king “in a certain city,” to marry her to a monster in a “funereal wedding.” After much lament the king and queen prepared the ceremony, and Psyche was brought to a steep rock for the creature to take her. Perino followed closely the composition in the cycle of engravings by the Master of the Die, which, accompanied by Italian quatrains, summarized Apuleius’ narrative. Nonetheless he exercised certain freedoms. He transferred the scene from the rural setting of the print to an urban venue, which allowed him to surround the figures with architectural inventions — a solution that smoothed the transition between the narrative scenes and Perino’s overall decorative scheme. Perino also greatly enhanced the expressive power and rhythmical movement of the scene in comparison with the engraving. With his figural design and expressive linearism, he has poignantly expressed the solemn music of the mournful procession.

Bibliography: Michael Miller, “Two Studies by Perino del Vaga for Castel Sant’Angelo,” Festschrift Konrad Oberhuber, Milan, 2000, pp. 99-107; Boorsch, Suzanne., and John. Marciari. Master Drawings From the Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 2006, pp. 66-68.

Related Literature: Exhibition catalogue, Gli affreschi di Paolo III a Castel Sant’Angelo 1543-1548 Progetto ed Esecuzione, Rome, 1981, vol 1, p. 157, fig. 90; vol. 2, pp. 87ff.