Gustave Moreau: Jupiter and Semele (1894-1895)


(Musée national Gustave Moreau, Paris, France)

A painting by the French artist Gustave Moreau (1826 – 1898). This painting shows an episode from Greek mythology. The mortal Semele, daughter the hero Cadmus and Harmonia, was a priestess of Zeus. During a sacrifice to Zeus. She was noticed by the God who fell in love with her and repeatedly visited her in secret and Semele quickly became pregnant. Hera, wife of Zeus, discovered the affair and plotted the downfall of Semele. Hera disguised herself as an old crone and befriended Semele. Semele told Hera that her lover was no other then the god Zeus himself but Hera told that she didn't believe her and made Semele doubt the true identity of her lover. Upon seeing Zeus again, Semele asked for a favor and Zeus told that she could ask whatever she wanted. Semele said that she wanted to see Zeus in all his glory as proof of his divinity. Zeus begged Semele not to ask this but Semele insisted. Zeus appaered before Semele in all his divine glory but as mortals cannot look upon the gods without incinerating, Semele perished, consumed in lightning-ignited flame. Zeus quickly rescued the unborn child of Semele by sewing the child into his thigh. Several months later the god Dionysus was born who rescued his mother from the underworld and made her a goddess with the name Thyone. Moreau shows Zeus (or Jupiter in Roman mythology) appearing in all his glory before Semele. Zeus/ Jupiter is sitting on a throne which is heavily laden with symbolic imagery. According to Moreau himself: "At the foot of the throne, Death and Sorrow form the tragic basis of Human Life, and not far from them, under the aegis of the eagle of Jupiter, the great Pan, symbol of Earth, bows his sorrowful brow, mourning his slavery and exile, while at his feet is piled the somber phalanx of the monsters of Erebus and Night". Semele can be seen next to Zeus/ Jupiter - "Semele, penetrated by the divine effluence, regenerated and purified by this consecration, dies struck by lightning and with her dies the genius of terrestrial love, the genius with the goat hooves" (as Moreau himself stated). Painting from 1894-1895.

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