Writing desk decorated with scenes from Ovid's Metamorphoses Moralized (Escritorio decorado con escenas de la Metamorfosis de Ovidio moralizado)
This chest was made in Spain around 1600 and likely exported to South America during the colonial period with a shipment of household goods. It was collected in Colombia or Ecuador in the early 1900s by Daniel Casey Stapleton before being generously donated to the Denver Art Museum in 1990. Lock-boxes such as this were often used to store luxury goods and jewelry.
The inlaid ivory plaques are incised with scenes from sixteen separate stories from Ovid’s epic narrative poem, the Metamorphoses. First written in Latin in the early first century CE, the Metamorphoses has remained one of the most popular works of classical mythology. During the late-medieval ages and early modern period, it was translated into numerous languages across Europe, where it became highly influential, inspiring scholars, writers, and artists alike. The intricately incised scenes on this chest are based on woodcut prints attributed to the Italian illustrator, Giovanni Antonio Rusconi (ca. 1520-1587). Rusconi’s prints were used to illustrate several Italian translations of Ovid’s work, including multiple editions of Lodovico Dolce’s Le Trasformationi, first published in Venice in 1553, and Francesco Bardi’s Ovidio Politico Istorico Morale, printed in 1674, 1688, and 1696. Each ivory panel illustrates a different mythological narrative, including some stories frequently represented in European art and culture, such as the flight of Daedalus and Icarus, Hercules wrestling the river god Achelous, and the Rape of Europa, found on the exterior of the fall front.
--Julie Wilson Frick, 2017; Sabena Kull, 2017-18 Mayer Fellow for Spanish Colonial Art