Title: Jupiter and Semele
Media: Oil on canvas
Current location: Musée National Gustave Moreau, Paris, France
Artist: Gustave Moreau
Born: 6 April 1826, Paris, France
Died: 18 April 1898. Paris, France
The first sketches for this painting are dated 1889, but it was finally delivered to the commissioner, Leopold Goldschmidt, in 1895. The painting was donated to the Musée National Gustave Moreau in 1903. As a true synthesis of Moreau’s art, the painting is regarded as a pictorial testament to the artist.
The painting depicts the moment Semele is struck by lightning, overwhelmed by the apparition of Jupiter transfigured into all his glory. Semele had listened to the words of Jupiter’s wife, Juno, who had taken on the appearance of Semele’s nursemaid, Beroe, to win her confidence as she suggested that Semele demand Jupiter to metamorphosis from her lover to the god, knowing it would be fatal for the mortal Semele. The winged figure hiding its eyes is identified as Bacchus, the child of the tragic union of the god with Semele
Moreau breaks with tradition and depicts the god as beardless and, by placing a lyre in his hand, makes him a poet god. At the base of the throne the allegories of Death and Sorrow form the tragic basis of human life. Nearby, Pan, the god with the cloven hooves, forms a link between the Heavens and Hell where Hecate, depicted with a crescent moon on her head, reigns. Symbolising the past and the future are two sphinxes, the guardians of this diabolical group. The vertical development of the painting is symbolic of the path the soul must take towards enlightenment within the spiritual regions.