Explanation

  • In the left of the picture, Apollo sits playing to the small group of shepherds in ancient dress. He had killed the Cyclops, Jupiter’s armourers, and as a punishment was to tend King Admetos’ herd for a year. During this time, Apollo taught music and poetry to his fellow herdsmen. On the opposite side of the picture we see Marsyas, who is recognisable by his goat’s legs and his flute. He once challenged Apollo to a musical duel, but lost and as a punishment Apollo decided he should be flayed alive. Koch does not take it to such lengths in his picture, but he leaves us in no doubt that Apollo is the victor, the key figure in the painting: Everyone is looking in his direction, and the sky is opened above his head. In making music, they both represent art, but the satyr Marsyas, who is part of Dionysus’s retinue, represents the instinctive, the wild, the unconventional, whereas Apollo stands for the more rational, the balanced, the idealising. It is typical of the neo-classical Koch that he should focus on a mythological scene in which reason wins over emotion, but in such a way that the contrast between the two does not affect the fundamental harmony of the Arcadian landscape. From 1794 until his death, Koch lived almost all the time in Rome, where he was one of the circle around Carstens, Reinhardt and Thorvaldsen. This picture is a typical example of Koch’s German, Roman heroic landscape painting. In his relief The Dance of the Muses on Helicon, Thorvaldsen has also portrayed Apollo with his lyre. In a version of this relief from 1816, the naked Apollo is seen with his hands and legs in a position very similar to that of Apollo in Koch’s painting. While Koch may thus have been inspired by the Apollo in Thorvaldsen’s relief, it may well be that on the other hand Thorvaldsen got his idea for his relief Apollo with the Shepherds from 1837 from Koch. The scenery in this relief has many points of similarity with the Apollo group in Koch’s painting. But that would not be so surprising, for in 1837 Thorvaldsen had already had Koch’s picture hanging on his wall for some years.

Motiv / Tema