Guest Post: “Pygmalion and Galatea” by Jean-Léon Gérôme from The Joy of Museums

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Thank you to The Joy of Museums for this guest article about Pygmalion and Galatea. What happens when a sculptor falls in love with his work?

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Pygmalion and Galatea by Jean-Léon Gérôme

“Pygmalion and Galatea” by Jean-Léon Gérôme features the story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where the sculptor Pygmalion kisses his ivory statue Galatea, after the goddess, Aphrodite has brought her to life. In Ovid’s narrative, Pygmalion was a Cypriot sculptor who carved a woman out of ivory. Galatea  “she who is milk-white” is the name of the statue carved by Pygmalion. His figure was so beautiful and realistic that he fell in love with it. On Aphrodite’s festival day, Pygmalion made offerings at the altar of Aphrodite, and he made a wish. When he returned home, he kissed his ivory statue and found that its lips felt warm. Aphrodite had granted Pygmalion’s request; the ivory sculpture changed to a woman with Aphrodite’s (or Venus’ the Roman equivalent) blessing.

Jean-Léon Gérôme was a French painter and sculptor, and his oeuvre included historical paintings, Greek mythology, Orientalism and portraits in the academic painting tradition. In 1891 Gérôme made a marble sculpture of Pygmalion and Galatea, based on a plaster version he used as a model for the painting. He made several alternative versions of this painting, each presenting the subject from a different angle.

Reflections

  • Have you seen sculpture so lifelike that it seemed about to move?
  • Is the Pinocchio story a variant of this theme?
  • Is Shaw’s play Pygmalion a modern variant of the myth with a subtle hint of feminism?
  • The Pygmalion story has been the subject of notable paintings and poems. Which is your favourite?

Pygmalion and Galatea

  • Title:                    Pygmalion and Galatea
  • Artist:                  Jean-Léon Gérôme
  • Year:                    1890
  • Type:                   Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:      35 x 27 in. (88.9 x 68.6 cm)
  • Museum:            Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET

Jean-Léon Gérôme

  • Artist:                Jean-Léon Gérôme
  • Born:                 1824 – Vesoul, Haute-Saône, France
  • Died:                  1904 (aged 79) – Paris, France
  • Nationality:      French
  • Movement:       Academicism, Orientalism
  • Notable works:

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“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Michelangelo

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