The painting is set in a natural landscape and it features Apollo, the naked man who has only a cloak on his shoulders and who is playing a musical instrument, similar to an ivory lure, and on the right you can see a creature named Pan, half man and half goat, holding a bow and a mandolin-like instrument with strings. The two are having a musical competition, to see who can play better. The dispute is judged by Mount Tmolus, who declares Apollo the winner but King Midas, the man in the center with donkey ears and crown on his head, declares that he prefers the sound of Pan and for this he is punished by Apollo, who grows him those terrible ears, symbol of stupidity that he had shown by preferring his friend instead of the god of sun.
Midas, in fact, was a Phrygian king who decided to give up his power and chose a quiet life in contact with nature. He moved into a forest, where Pan soon became his friend, amusing the sovereign with the sweet sound of his flute.
The painting depicts the moment narrated by Latin writer Lucian in the Dialogues of the Gods, following the punishment that Apollo had inflicted on Midas, who had dared to prefer the sound of his friend Pan. The figures are standing on a green, detailed landscape, with a great variety of plants and flowers on the field, and they are rather static in their movements and expressions, even though the anatomies, especially the nude figure of Apollo, are well delineated. The nude figure is soft and surrounded by a golden light, as in the Venetian pictorial tradition of the early 16th century.
The round painting reflects well the Renaissance taste for its subject taken from classical mythology and its setting in a lush and beautiful nature, and it has a pendant that represents the Sleeping Endymion, also preserved at the National Gallery of Parma.
The two round paintings were probably commissioned by canon Bartolomeo Montini, for whom Cima had already worked in the family chapel of the cathedral of Parma.
The two paintings were probably intended for the decoration of a wedding chest or a musical instrument with a keyboard. It was later owned by Scipione Dalla Rosa, a collector from Parma, Montini’s descendant and patron of Correggio, who he introduced to Abbess Giovanna da Piacenza, who then commissioned the famous room in the former monastery of San Paolo to the painter. In 1851 the still fragmented Italian state purchased the entire collection from Marquises Ludovico and Pier Maria Dalla Rosa Prati, Scipione’s heirs, and placed it in the Academy of Fine Arts of Parma, for the use of professors and students.
In the 19th century the paintings were in the collection of the Prati family, where they had arrived through the marriage between Anna Maria Prati and Pier Maria Dalla Rosa, and they appear in the inventories of the assets of a family member, Federico Prati, where the round paintings are attributed to “Andrea del Sarti”.
In 1856 the works were moved to the National Gallery of Parma.
The first documented trace related to the artist is a valuation of Conegliano from 1473, where the painter, who was about fourteen years old, in named as “Joannes cimator”.
However, there is no information about his education, but his first known work is from 1489, the year from which we can reconstruct, although not completely, his artistic and biographical path. In that period, Giovan Battista moved to Venice, where he opened his own rather successful workshop, according to the registered payments for paintings and altarpieces that were sold between the last decade of the 15th century and the early 16th century.
Between 1500 and 1515 Cima updated his artistic and figurative knowledge during a long stay in Parma, Bologna and Carpi, where he brought the strongly classicist Venetian style with large figures and contained poses. The artist depicted peaceful landscapes on the backgrounds, which were among the first not idealized landscapes in painting. In fact, the painter used to represent real backgrounds, such as those of the countryside in Treviso, where he was from. In Emilia Giovan Battista painted the altarpiece with Madonna and Child Between Saints Andrew and Archangel Michael (1505) for the church of Annunciata outside the city walls of Parma, and the Sacred Conversation (1513), preserved today at the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan.
His majestic works with monumental and classical architectures are greatly influenced by the later works of Giovanni Bellini, who was perhaps his teacher, but also by the works of other Venetians, such as Giorgione da Castelfranco, Marco Palmezzano and even before them Alvise Vivarini and Vittore Carpaccio.
Cima da Conegliano specialized in sacred subjects in polyptychs, triptychs and large altarpieces and he mainly depicted the Virgin in various moments, often with the Child and Saints or in Sacred Conversations.
He died in Conegliano, where he used to spend summers, in 1517. His house is now a museum which mainly houses archaeological finds of Conegliano area as well as photographs of Cima’s famous paintings, preserved in the most important Italian and foreign museums.
The construction of Palazzo della Pilotta started in 1583 for the order of the duke of Parma and Piacenza, Ottavio Farnese, who entrusted the task to architect Francesco Paciotto from Urbino. The name Pilotta derives from the game pelota, played by Spanish soldiers in the courtyard of Guazzatoio.
Today, the building holds the museum of archeology, national gallery, Palatine library, Farnese theater, and the Bodonian museum as well as the Accademia Nazionale di Belle Arti, the artistic lyceum of Paolo Toschi, the Department of Cultural Heritage and Performing Arts of the University of Parma.
After the extinction of the Farnese dynasty their collection was moved to Naples by Charles III of Spain in 1734. Pilotta remained without its artistic treasures until the duke Philip of Spain arrived in Parma in 1749. The son of the king of Spain and his wife Louise Elizabeth, the favorite daughter of the king Louis XV of France. At this occasion, Pilotta became a cultural center, a real symbol of the enlightenment and the French politics. Accademia di Belle Arti was founded in 1757 and a new artistic collection was created, from which will originate the Galleria Nazionale. The Palatina library (1769) and archaeological museum (1769) were added to the complex.
During the years of the restoration, under the duchy of Marie Louise of Austria (1816-1847) the cultural institutions of the Pilotta underwent considerable transformations. The halls of representation of the court were rearranged and the façade of the Palazzo was remade between 1833 and 1834, creating its elegant neoclassical character. Th task was entrusted to the architect Nicola Bettoli and the aim was to giver greater dignity to the ducal residence.
During the 1944 bombardments the building was severely damaged and from this point began a series of restoring interventions renovating the interiors, which became suitable to host the Galleria Nazionale, starting from 1991. The collection includes La Scapiliata by Leonardo da Vinci, the Turkish Slave and the Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine by Parmigianino, Correggio’s Madonna of St. Jerome and the Lamentation Over the Dead Christ, Guercino’s Susanna and the Elders and a view by Canaletto.