The Rotunda Paintings

The three lunette paintings over the Rotunda's main entrance and the doors to the Library and Study are compositionally but not thematically derived from Pinturicchio's decorations for the Borgia apartments in the Vatican (ca. 1492–94). They are a tribute to the great literary epochs of the past and to the authors whose work defined them. Like the ceiling roundels, the lunettes were executed on canvas in the artist's studio and then affixed to the surfaces of the room.

Antiquity (on the east, above the door to Mr. Morgan's Library): Epic Poetry represents the literature of antiquity. At the center, Calliope, the Muse of Epic Poetry, is flanked by Homer and Orpheus, the son of Calliope and Apollo. The figural groupings on either side symbolize the Iliad and the Odyssey: on the left, Thetis arms Archilles in the presence of Athena; on the right, Circe offers the poisoned drink to Odysseus, who is warned by Hermes.

The Middle Ages (on the south, above the original entrance): The Middle Ages are characterized by Arthurian romance and Dante's Divine Comedy. King Arthur and Beatrice, Dante's beloved, flank the central altar upon which burns the sacred flame. At the left are members of King Arthur's court, Tristan and Isolde (in the corner), and Queen Guinevere and Lancelot. Next to Beatrice, Dante and Virgil converse on the right. In the right corner, Paolo reads to Francesca da Rimini of the illicit first kiss of Guinevere and Lancelot, the passage that was to lead to their own adulterous love and consignment to the Inferno.

The Renaissance (on the west, leading to Mr. Morgan's Study): Erato, the Muse of Lyric and Amorous Poetry, is flanked by Torquato Tasso and Francesco Petrarch, their loves and literary creations. The left side of the lunette is devoted to Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, picturing its protagonist, Godfrey of Bouillon, and his squire, Siger; Tancred and Rinaldo, the crusaders; and Tasso himself with Leonora d'Este. Petrarch and Laura dominate the right side of the lunette with Laura's husband, Hughes de Sade; in the background is Avignon, where Petrarch first beheld Laura.