Published in Renaissance Quarterly, Volume 59, Issue 3, Fall October 1, 2006, pages 795-827.
NOTE: At the time of publication, the author Giancarlo Fiorenza was not yet affiliated with Cal Poly.
The definitive version is available at https://doi.org/10.1353/ren.2008.0370.
Francesco Primaticcio designed his celebrated Galerie d’Ulysse at Fontainebleau (now destroyed) at a time when the epic genre was being updated and redefined. One of the most popular scenes from the gallery, Ulysses and Penelope recounting their adventures to one another in bed (from book 23 of the Odyssey), was adapted and revised in an independent composition by Primaticcio himself: Ulysses and Penelope (Toledo Museum of Art, ca. 1560). In contrast to the Fontainebleau mural, the artist’s self-conscious, refined pictorial language for his canvas converts epic energy into lyric sentimentality. As a result, Penelope becomes the central focus of the new composition. Through the language of gesture the painting stresses such themes as beauty and desire, and further employs such prized poetic devices as reversal (peripeteia) and recognition (anagnorisis). By responding to the formal prescriptions of both the epic and romance genres, Primaticcio exploits the expressive and visual potential of the Homeric episode in an utterly novel way. The painting opens up questions into ways of reading, viewing, and interpreting mythic subject matter in sixteenth-century France.
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