Greek mythology tells of the Golden Apples of the Hesperides — apples that give the gift of immortality. The Three Graces by Sanzio Raffaello (aka Raphael) features those golden apples. October, as National Apple Month, is quite an appropriate time to delve into Raphael's painting.
1. Originally, Allegory (at right; also known as The Knight's Dream or Vision of a Knight) and The Three Graces were probably a single diptych. In the first panel, Allegory, the sleeping knight Scipio must choose between Venus, symbolizing pleasure, and Minerva, virtue. In the second panel, The Three Graces, Scipio is rewarded with the Golden Apples of the Hesperides for choosing virtue.
2. Throughout history, the Three Graces have been interpreted in a variety of ways. They are the attendants of goddesses and they are generally considered the personification of grace and beauty. They have also been considered to represent the three aspects of generosity (giving, receiving, and returning gifts); the three phases of love (beauty, arousal of desire, fulfillment); and as the personification of chastity, beauty, and love.
3. From ancient Greece through Raphael's time and even more recently, the Three Graces are almost always represented in the same manner: the two outer figures facing the spectator and the middle figure facing away.
4. The Three Graces was Raphael's first study of the female nude in both front and back views. Don't get the wrong idea, though; Raphael probably didn't use nude models but instead based his figures on the classical sculpture group of the Three Graces in Siena.
5. At the tender age of 17, Raphael was already considered a master. By the time he died, 20 years later, he was widely regarded as a great painter and he received quite the celebrity treatment upon his death. His funeral mass was celebrated at the Vatican and he was buried in the Pantheon in Rome.