The Myth
of Apollo

Apollo and Artemis

Side B of the vase illustrates a rarely represented legend, which gave the painter his name: Apollo and his sister Artemis killing the children of Niobe. Niobe, the mother of seven girls and seven boys, boasted of her superiority to the goddess Leto, who only had two children. At their outraged mother’s request, Apollo and Artemis killed all of the children of the unfortunate mortal. This is the moment that the painter chose to represent: the divine archers shooting down four Niobids, one girl and four boys, by arrow on an undulating landscape. Two of them are already lying dead on the ground. Apollo is not only the god of poetry and music; he is also a warrior god capable of bringing death with his bow and arrows.

To see this artwork, head to room 407 in the Denon wing of the Louvre!

Sophie Padel-Imbaud, documentary researcher, Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities, Musée du Louvre.

Red-figure calyx krater
(vase for mixing wine and water) known as the ‘Niobid Krater’, attributed Niobid Painter, clay, H. 54 cm, D. 56 cm, about 460–450 BC, Athens. Side A: Athena, heroes and warriors at the sanctuary of Herakles in Marathon. Side B: Apollo and Artemis killing the children of Niobe (Niobids). G 341, Musée du Louvre, Paris.
© RMN – Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre) / Hervé Lewandowski

Apollo Killing the Sons of Niobe,
after Polidoro da Caravaggio, anonymous artist, retouched by Rubens, black chalk on blue paper, retouched with brown-green wash and highlighted with white and cream gouache, H. 16.3 cm, L. 24 cm, 16th century. INV 20246, Musée du Louvre, Paris
© RMN – Grand Palais (Musée du Louvre) / Adrien Didierjean

Niobe, Queen of Thebes, had the audacity to boast of her progenitive superiority to Leto, who only had two children, Apollo and Diana. They punished Niobe for her excessive pride (hubris) by shooting down her seven sons and seven daughters with arrows. The drawing at the Louvre is an ancient copy of the frieze of the History of Niobe painted by Polidoro da Caravaggio – a student of Raphael – beneath the windows on the facade of the Palazzo Milesi in Rome. The fresco decoration, now gone, is known to us by Vasari’s description and drawn or engraved copies. This high-quality drawing, executed in the 16th century, was acquired by Rubens. Over the years, the great master from Antwerp assembled an impressive collection of copies after masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance. He often retouched them to complete the compositions, adding strips of paper (e.g. Apollo’s drapery on the left) or using the tip of a brush (e.g. the hooves of the horses in the foreground). He also used brown wash or white gouache highlights to heighten the contrasts and give more depth to the characters.

To see this artwork, head to the Louvre’s Department of Prints and Drawings!

Olivia Savatier Sjöholm, curator, Department of Prints and Drawings, Musée du Louvre.

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