Apollo and Daphne

Image credit: The National Gallery, London

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This tiny picture has grand themes: the rivalry of the gods and the power and danger of love. Its story comes from the Metamorphoses, by the Roman poet Ovid. Cupid, taking revenge on Apollo for his teasing, struck the god with a golden arrow of love, igniting a fierce desire for Daphne – but struck Daphne with an arrow which caused her to reject him. She fled from him until her father Peneus, the river god, helped her to escape Apollo’s embrace: he transformed her into a laurel tree.

The painting was once thought to be part of a piece of decorated furniture, but it was probably made as an independent painting. The delicacy of the minute details, like the flowers scattered across the hillside and the reflection of the trees in the river, along with the subtle painting of the distant, hazy mountains, suggest it was meant to be admired close up.

The National Gallery, London



Apollo and Daphne


probably 1470-80


Oil on wood


H 29.5 x W 20 cm

Accession number


Acquisition method

Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876

Work type



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Normally on display at

The National Gallery, London

Trafalgar Square, London, Greater London WC2N 5DN England

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