Scenes from the Story of the Argonauts
Biagio d’Antonio – Scenes from the Story of the Argonauts, ca. 1465 – Tempera on panel
Master of the Argonauts
These two panels with lively depictions of scenes from the stories of Jason and the Argonauts were designed either as the fronts of cassoni or as spalliere, hung at above shoulder height. As with other complex narrative constructions of the period, such as some of Ghiberti’s compositions for the bronze doors of the Baptistery of Florence, the stories proceed across the picture plane and in depth, and the illusionistic manipulation of space through perspective is central to their effect.
Most of the tale is told according to the epic poem Argonautica written in Greek by Apollonius of Rhodes and studied in the Medici circle. Vernacular versions supplied some of the details, and in this sense the panels resemble those painted in celebration of the Tornabuoni-Albizzi marriage some years later, to which Biagio d’Antonio also contributed.
Panel 1: Charge of King Pelias to Jason, his nephew, to retrieve the Golden Fleece from a cave in Colchis on the Black Sea (in each scene, Jason is in golden armor, pink cloak, and winged helmet). Jason seeks adventurers to follow him. Jason and Orpheus, with his viol, consult the centaur Chiron atop Mount Pelion. Jason’s ship, the Argo, sails along the Mysian coast. Hylas, Hercules’ squire, is pulled into a pool by nymphs and never seen again. The Calydonian boar hunt at the far right is not in Apollonius’ account.
The Tale of the Argonauts (left to right):
Panel 2: Jason arrives at Colchis greeted by King Aeëtes with his daughters Medea and Chalciope. Jason begins to carry out his appointed tasks under the protection of the sorceress Medea. He is able to grab the Golden Fleece from the labyrinth and flees with Medea. Aeëtes sends Medea’s brother in pursuit; he may be the young man riding in haste across the castle’s moat.
In this panel and its companion, the story of Jason and the Argonauts unfolds in a continuous narrative.
Here, at the left, Jason is charged by King Pelias to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Jason is then shown mounting his horse, and consulting the centaur Chiron on Mount Pelion, along with Hercules and Orpheus.
In the distance is Jason’s ship, the Argo. This unidentified master was an assistant in Biagio di Antonio’s workshop.