ceiling mural (ca. 1597) by Caravaggio
Caravaggio, Jupiter, Neptune, and Pluto (Italian Giove, Nettuno e Plutone, ca. 1597), a ceiling mural intended for viewing from below, hence the unusual perspective.
Caravaggio created the work for a room adjacent to the alchemical distillery of Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, his most important patron.
The three gods hover around a translucent globe that represents the world: Jupiter with his eagle, Neptune holding a bident, and Pluto accompanied by a bluish-gray horse and a Cerberus who resembles a three-headed border collie more than a hellhound. In addition to personifying the classical elements air, water, and earth, the three figures represent “an allegory of the applied science of alchemy”.
The painting was done for Caravaggio’s patron Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte and painted on the ceiling of the cardinal’s garden villa at porta Pinciana, where the cardinal dabbled in alchemy. Caravaggio has painted an allegory of the alchemical triad of Paracelsus: Jupiter stands for sulphur and air, Neptune for mercury and water, and Pluto for salt and earth. Each figure is identified by his beast: Jupiter by the eagle, Neptune by the hippocamp, and Pluto by the three-headed dog Cerberus. Jupiter is reaching out to move the celestial sphere in which the Sun revolves around the Earth. Galileo was a friend of Del Monte but had yet to make his mark on cosmology.