scene with ten figures in various states of undress, interacting in small groups throughout foreground (two on left, eight in center); goats and sheep scattered between groups; personified trees on hilltops at left and center in midground; third hill, buildings and bridge over river in background; airborne pegasus flying away in flock of birds

Parnassus Profaned, 1530-1540

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Greece’s Mount Parnassus is supposed to be home to poetry, literature and, by extension, learning, and Apollo is meant to hold court. But here, some of Apollo’s followers have removed their laurel crowns and moved on to pleasures shared more by animals than by muses. Even the trees no longer stand alone. Still, not everyone has become debauched; some point upwards toward loftier aims. The man and woman at left stand on a remnant of orderly classical architecture, and they look like they’ve had enough and are ready to leave. Pegasus, the virtuous winged horse, has beaten them to the exit and heads for a rainbow in the sky.

This disorderly composition rings with the energy and humor of Italian mannerism, a phenomenon of the late Renaissance, when artists undercut the orderly decorum that critics sought in the work of artists exemplified by Raphael. The image is a pastiche, with elements borrowed from earlier prints. Though a generation ago we might have cringed at the thought of pastiche, scorning a lack of originality, today, in the era of sampling and appropriation, we have returned to a mannerist aesthetic that values the challenge of reusing and recognizing snippets of admired forebears. Parnassus Profaned is an outstanding addition to our holdings of Italian mannerist prints. The allegory is lively, engaging, and humorous—the type of image that may help reset many visitors’ understanding of the Old Masters.

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scene with ten figures in various states of undress, interacting in small groups throughout foreground (two on left, eight in center); goats and sheep scattered between groups; personified trees on hilltops at left and center in midground; third hill, buildings and bridge over river in background; airborne pegasus flying away in flock of birds