Jupiter and Semele

Jupiter and Semele

Gustave Moreau


Oil on canvas

213 x 118 cm.

"It is important to appreciate the profound transformation in Moreau's attitude between . . . Leda and the last of his completed paintings, Jupiter and Semele, which it is tempting to regard as his pictorial and spiritual testament. According to myth the mortal Semele, perfidiously advised by the goddess Juno, asked Jupiter, her lover, to appear in all the splendour of his majesty and so brought about her own violent death. Moreau's commentary repeats and develops a sentence he wrote in connection with Leda: 'The great mystery is accomplished, all nature is penetrated by the ideal and the divine, everything is transformed.' In his eyes, the union was once again a 'sacred marriage' but without any implication of degradation in Jupiter's animal metamorphosis either for her, who was the cause of it, or for the hierogamy itself. . . . "

Moreau was none the less glorifying for the first time the physical love of man and woman; divinized physical love perhaps, but physical love all the same, and the radiance that consumes Semele as Jupiter appears in his supreme beauty is quite simply the most sumptuous expression imaginable of an orgasm: It is an ascension towards the upper spheres, refined, purified beings rising towards the divine.'

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