Johann Carl Loth
(Munich 1632 – Venice 1698)

Apollo and Marsyas

ca. 1684–1685 – oil on canvas, cm 131 x 167

The painting, originally part of the Nani Donà collection, dates to the first half of the 1680s. Loth interpreted a mythological subject through the naturalistic gaze of the post-Caravaggesque shadow-painters (known as tenebrosi, or tenebrists) namely his models Luca Giordano from Naples, Jusepe de Ribera from Spain, and Giovan Battista Langetti from Genoa.

The subject is taken from Ovid’s famous Metamorphoses describing the episode of Bacchus’s satyr Marsyas, the excellent flute player who competed with Apollo in a “flute-versus-lyre” contest. Marsyas lost the challenge and was cruelly punished by being tied to a tree and flayed alive.

Loth overlooked the gruesome punishment and focused instead on the musical contest scene where Apollo’s elegant figure stands in sheer contrast with the muscular satyr who, although devoid of his typical goat-like features, appears somewhat deformed.