Ivory sculpture of Galatea

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Second part of the 17th century
Ivory, cherry wood
16.8 cm
5.1 cm

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This carved ivory sculpture depicts Galatea, one of the fifty Nereids in Greek mythology. The German figurine stands on a turned and profiled cherry wood, brown colored base. Galatea stands in a wave of a swirling river and holds the distinctive scarf over her head, which flutters along in the wind.

Galatea, the daughter of Nereus and Doris, was a sea nymph who lived in the Aegean Sea. Ovid's Metamorphoses describes how the Sicilian cyclops Polyphemus fell in love with her, although Galatea did not appreciate this attention. She was, in fact, in love with another; the mortal Acis. When Polyphemus finds the two lovers one day, he becomes angry and tears a boulder from the side of Etna with which he crushes Acis. The inconsolable Galatea then transforms the blood of Acis into a river and Acis himself into a river god. The story of Galatea and Acis was frequently used in Renaissance paintings, poems, operas and sculptures. Often Galatea is depicted with sea attributes and with a shawl or cloth above her head. 


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