Thyestes and Aerope
(Giovanni Francesco Bezzi called Il Nosadella)


Thyestes and Aerope is the only surviving secular subject by Nosadella, who was best known in his own time for providing similar frescoed representations for sophisticated Bolognese patrons. The subject was identified by Dott. Jürgen Winkelmann and is part of the larger epic of Atreus and Thyestes. Atreus, King of Mycenae, had sacrificed the finest of a legendary flock of sheep that he had inherited from his father together with his envious brother, Thyestes. However, Atreus retained the golden fleece of a lamb while Aerope, his wife, developed a great passion for her brother-in-law, Thyestes, and in return for his favours made it possible for him to steal the golden fleece. Here, the scene is nocturnal, the chamber lit by a flaming lamp and brand. The armoured Thyestes rummages in a chest, where such treasures as a golden marten’s head can be seen. The aggressive nude Aerope looks on from her splendid bed. The painting’s flashing light and strained bearings convey a remarkable sense of tension and urgency.

The myth of the two brothers provided material for tragic playwrights, both Greek and Roman, such as Euripides and Seneca. It is likely that Nosadella knew the tale through Appollodorus’ Epitome or perhaps Hyginus’ Fabulae. Representations of the subject are extremely rare, though there was obviously some interest in Bologna at the time since other episodes from the tale of Atreus and Thyestes were frescoed by Lorenzo Sabbatini in the Palazzo Vizzani. It is quite possible that the exhibited picture may also have once been part of a series.

Nosadella’s authorship of the painting has been confirmed by Winkelmann, who suggested a late date of 1565-71. Dott.ssa Vittoria Romani concurs with the attribution and has pointed out that a drawing in the Galleria degli Uffizi (inv. 12169 F), inscribed ‘Bezzi’, appears to be an early idea for the composition. A further drawing related to this composition and seemingly showing a more advanced stage in the development of the composition was sold at auction in 1994 – see fig.1 . This sheet shows all the basic elements of the final painting , except for a few costume details and the setting. The re-emergence of Thyestes and Aerope helps to confirm the recent consensus that Nosadella was a major mannerist painter.

78 3/4 x 56 in. 200.03 x 142.24 cm.
Oil on canvas

Private Collection, Argentina.
London, Sotheby’s, 3 July 1989, lot 91.
The Matthiesen Gallery and Richard L. Feigen Inc., 1993.


Matthiesen Fine Art Ltd. & Stair Sainty Matthiesen Inc, Fifty Paintings
1535 – 1825, London and New York, 1993, no.3, pp.30-32, ill.

Where is It?
Acquired by The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford
Historical Period
Mannerism & Cinquecento - 1530-1600
Italian - Bolognese
1993-Fifty Paintings 1535 - 1825.
To celebrate Ten Years of Collaboration between The Matthiesen Gallery, London, and Stair Sainty Matthiesen, New York. 216 pages, 50 colour plates, numerous black and white text illustrations £20 or $32 inc. p.& p.

(Click on image above)
Price band
Sold or not available