The story of Artemis and Actaeon, told by Ovid in his “Metamorphoses”, decorates a small room on the ground floor of the Sanvitale Castle (Rocca Sanvitale) in Fontanellato, Emilia Romagna.
The frescoes date back to 1524 and were painted by Mannerist master Parmigianino (1503-1540). The cycle is made up of fourteen lunettes, in which the unfortunate hunter is depicted as he stumbles across the naked goddess – as she bathes at a spring in the woods –, is transformed into a stag for his transgression, and is finally torn to pieces by his own hounds.
The room in the ancient fortress (originally built in the 13th century) was probably the private bathroom of Paola Gonzaga, who had married the Count of Fontanellato, Galeazzo Sanvitale.
Various theories have been brought forth to explain why this mythological subject was chosen. Some critics interpret it as a painful reminder of fate’s unquestionable judgment, which sometimes happens to punish the innocent. Consequently, the motto inscribed in a frame in the center of the ceiling – reading “Respice finem”, Latin for “consider the end” – was probably meant as an encouragement to remember one’s overarching goal in life, that is God.
Whatever the reason that led Parmigianino to paint this cycle, we are truly glad to have stumbled across its beauty.