Polidoro da Caravaggio (Caravaggio ca. 1495–ca. 1543 Messina)
Condemnation of Perillus
Pen and brown ink, brown wash, heightened with white gouache, over black chalk, on light brown paper
6 1/2 x 9 1/8 inches (165 x 232 mm)
Purchased by Pierpont Morgan, 1909; I, 20
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By 1524 Polidoro was one of Rome's most prolific facade decorators, frescoing the outside walls of palaces with vigorously inventive monochrome friezes, figures in niches, and architectural elements saturated with references to the antique.
The present study relates to a facade on the via dei Coronari, Rome, that once depicted the story of the inventor Perillus. According to Ovid, he devised for his master, Phalaris, tyrant of Sicily, an instrument of torture consisting of a hollow, life-size bronze bull. The metal was to be heated, causing the person within to bellow like an animal in distress. In a surprising and especially cruel turn of events, however, Phalaris commanded that Perillus should be its first victim.
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