Atalanta and Hippomenes

The famous works of the seventeenth century by Guido Reni translated into bas-relief by the Anteros Museum
Loretta Secchi

The Fondazione Città Italia (Foundation for the Cultural Heritage of Italian Cities) has its headquarters in Rome. The Foundation and Naples’ Capodimonte Museum commissioned the Institute for the Blind Francesco Cavazza’s Anteros Tactile Museum to execute for the visually impaired the translation in bas-relief of the famous works of the 17th century by Guido Reni, Atalanta and Hippomenes. This absolute masterpiece was reproduced so that it could be perceived and deciphered through touch enabling the acquisition by people living with vision loss of proprioceptive and kinesthetic skills essential to the development of cognition and creativity. This process relying on somesthesia involves body and mind.


Lettura tattile dell'opera Atalanta e Ippomene

The iconography of Atalanta and Hippomenes, as we know it today, has origins that go back to Euripides, 5th-century BC classical Greek tragedian. The most touching narrative about this myth is drawn from Book 10 of Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It tells the story of Princess Atalanta, sometimes considered a nymph, daughter of Iasius, King of Arcadia, and Clymene, and of her relationship with young Hippomenes. Abandoned by the father on Mount Pelion, because she was undesired compared to a male child, and brought up by a female bear, Atalanta grows into a beautiful and talented woman. Skillful hunter, she distinguishes herself and excels in foot-race becoming even faster than the Centaurs. Atalanta is rediscovered by her father who wants her to be married. Atalanta, independent and aware of her abilities, agrees to marry only if her suitor can outrun her in a foot-race. Those who lose would be killed. An oracle had warned her that the day she would marry she would lose her abilities. In this scenario, threatening and dark, emerges the simple yet heroic figure of Hippomenes. The young man is deeply in love with Atalanta and decides to rise to the difficult challenge and asks Venus for help. The Goddess accepts Hippomenes’ prayer and gives him three golden apples to be dropped one by one during the race in order to slow Atalanta down, win the race and marry her. Despite her unbeatable speed, every time Atalanta gets ahead of Hippomenes, he rolls an apple ahead of her, which she tries to catch. Though she is preoccupied of losing the race, she is also impressed by this suitor’s courage and feels he should not die for her. The myth describes the culmination of a love blossomed at first sight and in part favoured by the gods, but the final part of the story is tragic and shocking.

Atalanta e Ippomene - Guido Reni

Atalanta and Hippomenes happily live their conjugal love but, one day, they enter in one of Cybele’s temples where they make love. This incurs the wrath of Aphrodite who punishes them, turning them into lions. In classical tradition it was believed lions could not mate with other lions. The metaphor of the sanctioned passionate sacrilege is complex and presents interesting facets from a moral and psychological perspective. A form of fear of self-giving can be interpreted in the character of Atalanta, dictated by the trauma of the original rejection by the father and the opportunity to transform the trauma into an act of liberating love beyond any hesitation or inhibition.


To make the idea of a tactile aesthetic beauty more tangible, the three-dimensional translation into prospective bas-relief of the masterpiece by Guido Reni offers people who are blind and visually impaired the sensory and intellectual vision of the painting’s forms and content. The work of translating the pictorial values of the masterpiece’s surfaces, volumes, compositional geometries, dynamism and spatiality into plastic values in bas-relief is complex. One learns about the work of art and the myth itself by actively listening to body experiences and verbal narration. This creates a mental image which corresponds to the scene of Hippomenes’ agile stride while in the foreground Atalanta is depicted while bending down to pick up the second golden apple, Hippomenes’ agile body and Atalante’s, soft and gathered. The hidden geometry fosters the understanding of the scene’s space and time and the semantics of gestures. People with vision loss can then take ownership of the composition, internalizing functionally the experiential knowledge of body structure in order to understand the expressive and aesthetic meaning of gesture in art.


Atalanta e Ippomene