Rafael, Galatea, 1512









Rafael, Galatea, 1512

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Rafael, Galatea, 1512


The painting ‘The Triumph of Galatea’ was one of the most famous paintings during the renaissance era. This painting was done by Rafael, and can be found in Villa Farnesina, Rome. The painting portrays feelings of love, easiness, religion, and artistic mastery. Rafael used his imagination to bring out the theme of identity and self-fashioning in the painting. All the characteristics of the painting, that is, the use of oil on canvas, the use of lines and the main theme conform to the trend during the renaissance era.

The key figure in the painting, Galatea, seems to be moving in a frenzy in the sea shell while her attention is drawn by something exciting behind her. The painting also has other sea gods in front of Galatea who seem to be submerged. Another figure on the foreground seems to lie effortlessly on the surface of the water as if it was a solid surface. The presence of gods and other figures floating on the water indicates the pagan religion, which was prevalent in Italy during the renaissance period. The painting ‘The Triumph of Galatea’ places itself among the famous antiques in Rome today as it represents the ancient Roman culture and beliefs (Pater, 2005).

The work of art was made to elaborate the fables and the pagan stories that were common during the renaissance period. In that period, the Roman and Greek mythologies were highly prevalent as people had not fully embraced Christianity (Holmes, 2013). The belief in the gods motivated the creation of this painting. The key subject of the painting, Galatea is believed to be a sea nymph as opposed to being a real human being. In the painting, Galatea is seen to escape, while other figures seem to gaze at her with lustful eyes. The scene portrayed in the painting thus acts as a pictorial summary of the Greek and Roman fables, and myths.

The intended message to the viewer is about love. The presence of the cupids on the top of the picture indicates that the subjects of the painting are struck with the magic of love. Moreover, the fables and the myths in which the painting is based on is about love. Galatea escapes from the one eyed giant, Polyphemus, who through a stone on Galatea’s lover, Acis. The other figures in the painting seem to be making advances towards Galatea, especially the Icthyocentaur (the figure with mixed bodies) (Vasari, 1998). On the other hand, the fact that there are love cupids aiming the arrows on Galatea and the strange figure aim to pass the message that there can be liberation after suffering.

Galatea had been patient enough to get out of the jaws of Polyphemus, which paid off when she finally got a chance to escape. The painting, therefore, communicates to the viewer that patience may lead to better results. Moreover, there is another figure on the left of Galatea playing a trumpet. This figure may be symbolic to indicate the good times ahead for Galatea after escaping from her lover Polyphemus. The painting tends to glorify platonic love or ideal love, which refers to the love of the spirit.

The renaissance period, which happened between the 14th and the 17th centuries was characterized by belief in the gods, heroes, and war scenes (Holmes, 2013). These characteristics are thus a solid identification of the pagan believers (Holmes, 2013). Rafael used the painting to place himself in the Roman culture during the period. This self-fashioning thus creates an identity that the viewer associates the painter, subjects of the painting, the period in which it was painted, and the cultural and religious beliefs during the period (Holmes, 2013). Rafael communicates the triumph of the ideal love by showing the good times that are experienced by Galatea, contrary to the hardships she underwent when married to the jealous Polyphemus.

According to Vasari (1998), the artists in the renaissance era were highly identified with the beauty and perfection of their subjects. Vasari (1998) based the central argument to the fact that artists in the period, such as Rafael, made the beauty of the subjects, be it real human beings, the gods or imaginary figures, an important issues. Most of the artistic work created during the period was associated with nudity and femininity, thus leading to the creation of an identity.

With regard to ‘The triumph of Galatea’, Rafael create a self-fashioning by adhering to the characteristics identified by Vasari (1998). The painting exhibits features of femininity and nudity which identifies with other artistic work from the renaissance period. Galatea is exhibited as a very beautiful figure with smooth skin and long hair. The other male subjects in the painting are masculine. The evidence provided in the article is that of the portrayal of Venus, by the artists. Venus was renowned to be a very beautiful figure. Artists who included the subject in their paintings used soft edges, smooth texture, and long hair to effectively bring out the beauty of the character (Vasari, 1998).

Pater (2005) postulates that artists during the renaissance period focused on beauty to bring about the concept of love. According to the evidence in the text, artists such as Leonardo and Rafael used feminine beauty as an object of philosophical speculation and inspiration (Pater, 2005). However, the love that artists intended to bring out was not physical love or love on the body of the subjects, but rather a natural admiration. Pater (2005) bases the arguments of identity and self-fashioning on immaculate love. The author further states that the use of feminine images is not meant to spur a sexist approach. The evidence provided is rather solid since the author argues that the symbols of Greek gods have beauty, whether female or male gods, with very little traces of gender (Pater, 2005).

The arguments by both authors are rather compelling. The evidence provided in the texts to support the arguments are solid and can be traced to the paintings or trends during the renaissance period. Pater (2005) and Vasari (1998) agree on the fact that the artists during the period self-fashioned themselves with a specific style that concentrated on the beauty of the subjects. Moreover, artists during the era intended to bring out the concept of love in a number of ways through real and imaginary subjects. The arguments on identity and self-fashioning are evident in Rafael’s painting such that the characters exhibit the natural beauty while communicating on the concept of love. Moreover, the use of gods in the painting, such as the key subject who is not a real human being conforms to the identity created by the artists during the renaissance period.


The painting ‘The Triumph of Galatea’ conforms to the identity and self-fashion created by artists during the period of renaissance. According to Pater (2005) and Vasari (1998), artists during the period, including Rafael, developed a style that focused on, paganism, natural beauty and femininity while portraying a concept of love. This style has since been used to identify paintings and artists during that era. The identity created during the period reflects on ‘The Triumph of Galatea’ by Rafael.





Holmes, M. (2013). The Miraculous Image in Renaissance Florence. Yale University Press

Pater, W. (2005). The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry (Dover Fine Art, History of Art). Dover Publications.

Vasari, G. (1998). The lives of the Artists. Oxford. Oxford University Press.



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