Jacopo Ligozzi’s ‘The Contest of Pan and Apollo’ c. 1585 is on view at Christopher Bishop Fine Art, NYC




Image: Jacopo Ligozzi (Italian 1547 – 1627), The Contest of Pan and Apollo, 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.” Image courtesy of the gallery.

A drawing by Jacopo Ligozzi (Italian 1547-1627), one of the most remarkable artists of the Medici court, is on public view in New York for the first time at Christopher Bishop Fine Art (1046 Madison Avenue at 80th Street) and has been extended through March 31. Ligozzi’s The Contest of Pan and Apollo, 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.

The reasons why Francesco would feel the need for such a talisman reflect a deeper set of personal and cultural anxieties. 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 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.

This association with Apollo implied the final alchemical stage in a return to glory, the full completion of the renaissance of Florence. 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 of the kind Midas could have only dreamt. Francesco is the young Apollo whose ringing voice promises to restore a lost Golden Age to Florence.

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 difficulties of virtue and the attractions of beauty. In The Contest of Pan and Apollo, Ligozzi puts 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.

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, an embodiment of Apollo’s refinement. The glory of the Medici is reflected outward from this work.

Jacopo Ligozzi’s (Italian 1547-1627) 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)

Ligozzi 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 president, 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.

Christopher Bishop Fine Art is located at 1046 Madison Avenue, Suite 2n, on the corner of 80th Street and Madison Avenue, NYC.