Piero di Cosimo- The Discovery of Vulcan on Lemnos
This painting depicts six nymphs tending to Vulcan, who had been hurled from Olympus.
The panel nearly but not perfectly square, being slightly wider than it is tall, as one can see from the fact that narrow strips border the sides of the circle inscribed within its top and bottom margins. The circle suggestively traces out a number of elements in the painting. Starting at the left center and moving clockwise, these include the side of the left nymph’s basket, details of the foliage in the trees , and most obviously the arm of the nymph at lower right. A square inscribed within this circle contains the faces of all of the nymphs, even though the heads of three of them protrude from this frame. Vulcan seems to kneel on the bottom of the square, whose top edge corresponds to a prominent break in the cloud bank above. The diagonals of the square appear to govern the pose of the central nymph and her companion to the upper right. The diagonal rising from left to right also aligns closely with a band of shadow in the grass at lower left.
When an octagon is circumscribed around the central circle, it can be seen that the radii to its corners serve to locate many elements in the composition. Starting at the top left center and moving clockwise, these include the eye of the nymph at left, the shape of the trees at upper left, the placement of the tree and landforms at upper right, the shoulder of the rightmost standing nymph, her foot position, the line of her kneeling companion’s gaze, the placement of Vulcan’s right foot, the angle of his right arm and face, and the points on the two nymphs at left where their bare legs emerge from their garb.
The overall shape of the panel is set by adding to the sides of the octagon narrow strips whose width equals one third of the interval between the octagon and its inscribing square, as the small yellow circles indicate.
When green diagonals are extended from the endpoints of these circles’ radii, one finds an armature that helps to establish other elements of the composition. The uppermost left diagonal, for example, traces the treebranch at left, the hand of leftmost nymph, and the pattern of the adjacent tree’s foliage. The upper right diagonal, similarly, traces not only the wing of the upper bird, but also the gaze of the two standing nymphs at right.
Finally, this system can be extended by using the full width of the panel, rather than just the largest square contained by it. So, example, the rightmost nymph steps on the ray of an octagon extended to this margin of the panel. Also, when 45-degree diagonals are launched from the corners of the panel, and reflected around the red diagonals of the large square, a blue-bordered X results, whose central diamond coincides with the chest of the central nymph. Her head fits into the upper left branch of the X, while here upper arm and left leg fig into the lower right branch. The lower left branch of the X aligns with her shoulders, Vulcan’s eye, and the face of the second standing nymph from the right. Further details can be found within this framework, but those cited already should suffice to demonstrate the relevance of this overall armature for the composition.
This painting is the property of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, in Hartford, Connecticut. This analysis was based on the image: