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Title Orpheus Returning from the Underworld
Collection Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Artist Attributed to Verhaecht, Tobias (Flemish painter, ca. 1560 - 1631)
Previously attributed to school of Bosch, Hieronymus (early Netherlandish painter, ca.1450-1516)
Date Earliest about 1580
Date Latest about 1630
Description Greek legend describes how the poet Orpheus descended into the Land of the Dead and by the power of music from his lyre, succeeded in persuading the god of the underworld, Hades (Pluto) to allow his dead wife, Eurydice, to follow him back to earth. Hades agreed on condition that Orpheus did not look back at her after he left the valley of Avernus, the point from which he had descended into the Underworld. However, at the last moment, Orpheus looked back and Eurydice is shown being dragged back into the darkness. The painting contains some mysterious iconographic elements. The significance of the hanging figure is not altogether clear although the grotesque figure sitting in the tree is also seen in Jan Breughel's Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld, Brussels.
Current Accession Number 1960P60
Former Accession Number P.6060
Subject mythology (Orpheus in the Underworld)
Measurements 32.0 x 45 cm.0 cm (estimate)
Material oil on panel
Acquisition Details Bequeathed by Sir Leonard Woolley through the National Art-Collections Fund 1960.
Publications Catalogue of Paintings in Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, 1960; Foreign Paintings in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, A Summary Catalogue, 1983, no. 150.
Notes On reverse of panel in pen (lr) 'Spagnoletto pinkt 1652'.

There seem to be some odd iconographic elements in this painting. However, parallels may be found in works by other artists. Jan Breughel's Aeneas and the Sibyl in the Underworld, Brussels (inv nor 6249) has similar figures sitting in the trees and naked, writhing figures. Roelandt Savery's Orpheus (Museo di Castelvecchio, Verona) shows many stages of the Orpheus story and contains similar iconography; the three Fates are seen at the mouth of the Underworld and a similar round temple with crescent moon can be seen in background.

Rights Owner Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Author Dr Patricia Smyth



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