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Thursday 18 January 2018

Master of the Die, "Apollo and Marsyas", c1530

Master of the Die (fl.1522–33) (purported by the “Benezit Dictionary of Artists” [2005] to be Bernardo Daddi [fl.c.1530–60], but the BM also argues that the artist may be Tommaso Vincidor [1493–1536])

“Apollo and Marsyas” (TIB title), c.1530, after Raphael (1483–1520), published by Philippe Thomassin (1562–1622) and later by Giovanni Jacopo Rossi (aka Giovanni Iacomo de Rubeis; Giovanni Giacomo de' Rossi; Jo Jacobus de Rubeis; Giovanni Jacomo de' Rossi) (1627–91) as lettered on the plate.

Engraving on laid paper with margins lined with a support sheet
Size: (sheet) 22.2 x 33.2 cm; (plate) 19 x 29.2 cm; (image borderline) 18.7 x 28.8 cm
Lettered on plate along the lower edge: “Romae apud Philippum Thomassinu RAPHAEL VRB. INV. Gio Iacomo Rossi formis alla Pace” and artist's monogram “B” on dice at right.
State iii (of iii?) with the addition of the address of Giovanni Jacopo Rossi as the publisher.

Note: based on the BM’s bibliographical details for the publisher, Giovanni Jacopo Rossi, his address after c1680 was “Rome, alla Pace all'insegna di Parigi” which is the same address inscribed (in part) on this print: “alla Pace”. This means that the publication date for this impression was between c1680 and his death in 1691.

TIB 29 (15). 31(206) (Suzanne Boorsch [Ed.] 1982, “The Illustrated Bartsch: Italian Masters of the Sixteenth Century”, vol. 29, Abaris Books, New York, p.188); Bartsch XV.206.31 (Adam Bartsch 1803, “Le Peintre graveur”, vol. 15, Vienna)

The British Museum offers the following description of this print (state ii):
“Naked Apollo seated at the right with a lyre on his right knee, pointing to a kneeling man [who] takes a knife from a box to flay Marsyas who is tied naked to a tree at left”

Condition: very crisp, richly inked and well-printed impression with margins (varying but approximately 2 cm wide). The sheet has been laid upon an archival support sheet and there is an area of restored abrasion, otherwise the print is in excellent condition (i.e. there are no tears, holes, folds, significant stains or foxing).

I am selling this engraving of the utmost rarity by the 16th century printmaker whose work is signed with a symbol of a dice—hence the artist’s descriptive title, “Master of the Die”—for AU$388 (currently US$310.13/EUR253.28/GBP223.58 at the time of posting this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world.

If you are interested in purchasing this superb print from the Renaissance era exemplifying the interest at the time for classical mythology, please contact me ( and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.

This print has been sold

For those unfamiliar with the mythological story that this scene illustrates, I need to offer a quick word of warning: this is a gruesome tale. Let me begin…

The chap tied to the tree on the left is Marsyas who was so full of pride with his musical ability that he unwisely challenged the god, Apollo, shown holding a lute to the right of centre, to a music competition judged by the Muses—goddesses responsible for artistic inspiration. Being confident with his ability to win, Marsyas agreed to the terms of the competition that the winner could do what they wished to the loser. Needless to say, Apollo won and chose to have Marsyas flayed as his prize. Hence this scene portrays Apollo giving instructions to have Marsyas skinned alive.

Moving beyond this hideous story, I thought I might draw attention to a few important details that might not be noticed in a casual glance.

Note how the artist has shaded the background immediately behind the architectural feature at the centre of the composition: on the lit side of this structure, the background is darkened; on the shadow side of the structure, the background is lightened. This simple but useful visual device was later used extensively by Georges Seurat.

Note the treatment of the tree limb immediately above the tied hands of Marsyas and how the artist has changed the angle of the curved contour lines so that some of the limbs project forward while others lean back.

As a final feature to examine, note the very odd form of the vegetation lump shown forward of where Apollo is seated. To my eyes this lump—I am really not certain about its constituent parts—is almost like the form of a snail with contoured strokes giving the impression of animation. Very strange!

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