Sala di Galatea                      
 
Located in the Garden Loggia, the Sala di Galatea is considered to be one of the most important areas of the Villa Farnesina. It is here that Raphael’s first work in the villa is located, his 295”x 225” painting of The Triumph of Galatea. The room contains several paintings, only one of which was done by Raphael, but nevertheless dictates the room’s name. Scenes representing the constellations in accordance with the birthday of Agostino Chigi prescribe the theme of the room.
      Originally, the Sala di Galatea was to have many well known artists paint a series of large frescoes, each representing divinities of the earth and sea. However, only two of these frescoes were finished, Polyphemus by Sebastiano del Piombo, and The Triumph of Galatea by Raphael. The fresco of Galatea was originally commissioned to Sebastiano del Piombo also, but it was taken from him and given to Raphael.      
Triumph of Galatea was based on stanza 118 of Poliziano’s poem, La Giostra.        
Two shapely dolphins pull a chariot: on it sits
Galatea and wields the reins; as they swim, they
breathe in unison; a mere wanton flock circles
one spews forth salt waves, others
swim in circles, one seems to cavort and play for
love; with her faithful sisters, the fair nymph
charmingly laughs at such a crude singer.


 
     
  (English translation from Italian)  
                 
The scene illustrates a pagan fable in which the lovely nymph tries to escape from her pursuer, the Cyclops Polyphemus. Galatea is shown looking over her shoulder for her pursuer as she rides a seashell chariot pulled by two demonic dolphins. Surrounding Galatea are centaurs and sea gods, whom are playing trumpets or grasping for nymphs. In the sky above a trio of cherubs, or putti, are pointing their love arrows at Galatea. A fourth peeks over a cloud in the top left corner of the fresco, watching the scene at a distance.
                 
Raphael based the image of the lovely sea nymph, Galatea, on the ideal he carried of female perfection, not on one single beautiful woman. Instead of formulating her body from one model, he created a composition of qualities he had seen in various women. There is a tremendous sense of movement in the painting with all the figures shown in some sort of motion. Galatea herself looks very placid, but her cloak and hair produce a clear sense that she is moving and there is a strong wind. “Raphael’s triumph inspired some of the most beautiful compositions of classicistic art in the seventeenth century (Harett 538).”
 
 
Although the subject matter of the fresco implies mayhem, the figures in the composition appear to be captivated be some force other than worry of escaping. Their multi-directional gazes hardly hint at a hysterical sentiment. A figure eight composition also helps the painting avoid appearing too chaotic. One can assign the “beginning” of the figure eight to the small cherub on the bottom. His arms seem to sweep up towards the reigns on the dolphins, which are held by the arms of the nymph. The movement continues through her cloak, up towards the trio of cupids above, back to the angled stance of the nymph, to the position of the siren, and back to the cherub’s foot. The composition is “…centralized by movement of the chariot from left to right…accentuated by impulses from the lighted arcs of the painted drapery whose curves are repeated in the Eros floating in the foreground” (Hartt, 538). The possible frenzy that the subject matter implies is also suppressed by the softness of the figures in the execution of flesh and the sweeping movements of the fabric.    
                 
One element of this painting to take note of is the manner in which figures are shown in relation to their environment. While many figures appear to be submerged in the water, others, such as the cherub in the foreground, appear to be resting on top of it, as if the water were a solid surface. Also, the arrangement of the figures on the left hand side of the page create confusion in their placement, as the figure with the horse appears to be pushing directly against the merman and his lady, which may not have been the intent. One might even say that this uncalculated placement of figures could have been an indication of the beginnings of the mannerist movement, which was to emerge shortly thereafter.