On view in New York for the first time: Jacopo Ligozzi's "The Contest of Apollo and Pan"

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On view in New York for the first time: Jacopo Ligozzi's "The Contest of Apollo and Pan"
Jacopo Ligozzi (Italian 1547 – 1627), The Contest of Apollo and Pan, c. 1585. Pen and black ink with grey washes on prepared ochre paper, heightened in white, 328 mm (D). Apocryphal signature in black ink in lower center “S. Pignone.”

NEW YORK, NY.- One of the highlights of Master Drawings New York (January 23-30, 2021) will be the opportunity to view a drawing by Jacopo Ligozzi (Italian 1547-1627), one of the most remarkable artists of the Medici court. On view at Christopher Bishop Fine Art (1046 Madison Avenue at 80th Street), the drawing is part of an exhibition The Magic of the Draughtsman: Images of the Occult, which explores the lines between art, science and magic.

On public view for the first time in New York, Ligozzi’s The Contest of Apollo and Pan, c. 1585, presents a musical competition between two gods. An idealized representation of the Golden Age, Ligozzi’s drawing was intended to bring not only prestige but power to his principal patrons, the Medici family of Florence.

Ligozzi shared a fascination with alchemy with his patron Francesco I de’ Medici (1541-1587) and created the gold-toned drawing as a solar talisman to radiate Apollo’s influence throughout Florence. The Contest of Pan and Apollo hides a deeper family drama of anxiety, alchemy and magic beneath its glitzy surface. The triumph of the calm and radiant Apollo over the greedy Midas and the bestial Pan is a mirror of the cultural ambitions of the young Duke, Francesco de’ Medici. This splendid drawing was likely commissioned by Francesco as a to-scale model for a golden object, perhaps of the kind Midas could only dream about. Francesco is the young Apollo whose ringing voice promises to restore a lost Golden Age to Florence. The glory of the Medici radiates outward.

At its core Ligozzi’s work is about the complexities of judgment. Rather than coveting the material gold of the finished object like Midas, the viewer is meant to prefer the conceptual beauties of Ligozzi’s design. No great artist, however, could be unaware that it is desire and the love of beauty which first put us on the path towards the transcendent.

Ligozzi’s works from this period show him skirting the line between science and art, magic and metaphor. He seems virtually obsessed with the contradictions inherent in the connections between virtue and beauty. In The Contest of Pan and Apollo, Ligozzi put much emphasis on the transformative alchemical power of art to overcome these contradictions. Francesco fully empathized with Midas’s love of alchemy and the seduction of Bacchus’s teachings. His golden drawing was intended, however, to refine these desires into the pure disembodied light of Apollo. The light reflected in the golden surface of Francesco’s prized object is a legitimate target of our admiration even if our venial greed is a sin.

The reasons why Francesco would feel the need for such a talisman reflect a deeper set of personal and cultural anxieties. The final conversion of Florence from a Republic into a Duchy was not to be won by him on the battlefield, but could perhaps be accomplished on the field of cultural achievements and occult practices. Francesco preferred the solar imagery of Apollo. This association implied the final alchemical stage in a return to glory, the full completion of the renaissance of Florence.

Jacopo Ligozzi (Italian 1547-1627) is known as one of the most remarkable artists of the Medici court. His paintings and drawings have been described as “windows into a fantastical world…with a singular and fascinating images of a profound and melancholy beauty.” (Louvre)

He was born in Verona to a family of artists and craftspeople, and rose to prominence as an artist for the Hapsburg Court of the Austrian Empire in Vienna. He settled in Florence in 1576 to work for the Medici. His talents earned him admission to the prestigious Accademia del Disegno, where he was made the chief head, succeeding Giorgio Vasari, one of the foremost artists of 16th century Italy, whose artist biographies formed the basis for modern art history. A large-scale painter, draftsman, printmaker, and miniature painter, Ligozzi’s contribution to Medici art of the period is considered substantial with a body of work including portraits, animal subjects, painted frescoes, religious paintings, and scientific studies of natural objects.

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