Metamorphosis and the aesthetics of loss: I. Mourning Daphne –The Apollo and Daphne paintings of Nicolas Poussin

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Abstract

The myth of Apollo and Daphne, as told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, is viewed through the self-referential eye of the seicento painter, Nicolas Poussin. Collectively, the tree-metaphoric myths are argued to metaphorically represent, mourn, and negate unbearable realities, including the developmental challenges of adolescence and adulthood – in particular, loss. Examined in the context of their aesthetic precedents and a close reading of Ovid ’s text, the two Apollo and Daphne paintings that bracket Poussin’s oeuvre are interpreted as conveying the conflict and ambiguity inherent to Ovid, as well as connotations more personal to the artist. The poetic and aesthetic reworking of the regressive, magical experience of metamorphosis restores it to the symbolic world of metaphor: for reparation, remembrance, and return.

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