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Bartolomeo Manfredi, Italian, 1582–1622
Apollo and Marsyas, 1616–20
oil on canvas
37 5/8 x 53 9/16 inches
Friends Fund and funds given by Mr. and Mrs. John Peters MacCarthy, Phoebe and Mark Weil, and Christian B. Peper 62:2004

In this painting, Apollo, god of music, poetry, and the sun carries out a cruel punishment on the satyr Marsyas (MAR-see-us). According to an ancient myth, Marsyas believed that he could defeat Apollo in a musical contest. The stakes were high in this competition since the winner would decide the loser’s fate. Not surprisingly, the god Apollo won. He chose a shocking way to punish Marsyas for his pride—flaying, or peeling off his skin. This painting shows only the two characters. Marsyas, who lived in the woods, is shown tethered to the trees while Apollo, the god, is framed against a brightly lit sky. In contrast to Apollo’s calm expression, Marsyas appears shocked and horrified.

For younger students:
Compare and contrast the appearance of the two figures.
What do you think will happen next? Will the story have a happy ending or a tragic one?

For older students:
What if the artist had depicted the figures further back in the landscape? How would it affect the way we interpret the painting?
Compare and contrast the figures of Apollo and Marsyas.What do their similarities and differences suggest about them?

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