Ovid's Metamorphoses describes the story of the Cypriot sculptor Pygmalion, who fell in love with one of his marble creations. He named the work Galatea, and prayed to the goddess Aphrodite that she would have mercy on him and transform his inanimate creation into living flesh. As the story goes, upon returning from Aphrodite's temple, Pygmalion kissed Galatea, only to discover that her lips were flush red and that she was miraculously changing into a human being. The pair fell deeply in love and soon married, bearing a son named Paphos, after whom the Cypriot city is named. Amigoni has conflated the elements of the story, presenting the scene at the height of the sculptor's desperate entreaty to the goddess, who has just descended in a tumble of clouds and putti. Her hand rests gently on Galatea's arm, suggesting that the marble figure will momentarily begin her metamorphosis, and imbuing the scene with dramatic energy.
The itinerant painter and etcher Jacopo Amigoni trained in Venice but began his career in southern Germany, where he first studied in Düsseldorf and then from about 1715 to 1729 produced decorative ceiling frescoes for Maximilian II Emanuel, elector of Bavaria, at Schloss Schleissheim and at the elector's summer palace at Schloss Nymphenberg. In 1729, he arrived in England, where he would remain for ten years, interrupted only by a visit to France in 1736. During this period, Amigoni completed a large-scale decorative project for Moor Park, near London, and excelled as a portraitist for private patrons. After a sojourn in his native city from 1739-1747, where he absorbed the full-blown Venetian Rococo that had matured during his absence, Amigoni was drawn to Madrid where – like his contemporary Giambattista Tiepolo – he hoped to attract the rich patronage of the Bourbon court. As a court painter to Ferdinand VI, Amigoni worked on portraits and ambitious decorative schemes, and was in the King's employ when he died in 1752. Although the size of the present canvas fits that of a traditional English format, Scarpa Sonino has suggested that the present work, with its gentle pastel colors, evocative of his later sojourn in Venice, and elegantly restrained composition more in line with the late Spanish Baroque style, may date to the artist's Madrilenian period.