Francesco Primaticcio (Italian, 1504-1570)
Story of Arethusa, n.d.
Ink and wash on paper 21 11/16 in. x 16 7/16 in. (55.09 cm x 41.75 cm)
Crocker Art Museum, E. B. Crocker Collection1871.26
Born in 1504 in Bologna, Francesco Primaticcio is best known for decorating the palaces of the French kings François I and Henri II in the Italian style, most famously at Fontainebleau. His early training took place in Mantua under Raphael’s collaborator Giulio Romano. Arriving at the French court in 1532, he found an environment receptive to Italian ideas in art, literature, and music. His fellow artist Rosso Fiorentino had arrived two years earlier, and after Rosso’s death in 1540, Primaticcio became the court’s main artist, directing a team of assistants in projects for the next thirty years.
Among these projects was a series of mythologies in stained glass for the hunting-lodge at Anet, a gift from Henri II to his mistress Diane de Poitiers, which the architect Philibert de l’Orme began to build in 1547. Primaticcio decorated the palace with stories of the divine huntress Diana to commemorate its purpose and patroness. In this scene drawn from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the water-nymph Arethusa, pursued by a river-god, dives into the river and emerges through its bank. The goddess hears her cries and turns her into a virginal spring, the waters of which will never again mingle with those of the river. Here, her attendants assist and crown the emerging spring Arethusa with laurel leaves.