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Girodet, The Sleep of Endymion

Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, The Sleep of Endymion, 1791, oil on canvas, 1.98 x 2.61m (6 feet 5-¾ inches x 8 feet 6-¾ inches), exhibited in the salons of 1793 and 1814 (Musée du Louvre, Paris) Speakers: Drs. Beth Harris and Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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Video transcript

SPEAKER 1: We're in the Louvre, and we're looking at a painting by one of David's followers, one of his students, an artist whose name is quite long but is usually just shortened to Girodet. SPEAKER 2: And the title of the painting is "The Sleep of Endymion." SPEAKER 1: So this is an ancient myth, and it speaks of a shepherd who was an ideal beauty. SPEAKER 2: And he had gotten into a disagreement with the goddess Juno, who, as punishment, put him into a 30-year-long sleep. SPEAKER 1: But rather kindly, and to further the story, I guess, doesn't have him age. So he maintains his ideal beauty during that 30-year sleep. SPEAKER 2: And in this scene, he's visited by the chaste goddess Diana. SPEAKER 1: She's the goddess of the hunt and apparently was so in love with him that she visited every night. SPEAKER 2: She takes the form of a moonbeam. SPEAKER 1: Well, she's associated with the moon, and so that's how she's personified here. And she bathes him in light. The beam is coming down from the moonlit sky, but it's got to get through all of that underbrush. And you'll notice that there's another figure. That's Zephyr, who is a personification of the west wind, who helps Diana by pulling the boughs back so that her light can bathe him in that extraordinary glow. SPEAKER 2: So we see this interest in the ideal male nude. We know that David's followers at this time were looking back at ancient Greek sculptures of nude athletes and gods, and there's a real interest here in that nudity. But the form is softened so that we don't really have a lot of anatomical detail in terms of musculature. We see a little bit in the abdomen. But if we look at the arms and the legs, they look rather soft and, in a way, a little bit feminine. SPEAKER 1: Oh, there's no question. In fact, the entire painting glows so that all of the clarity of line has been removed. And I think it's quite clear that Girodet has been looking at some of the earlier Italian masters. I'm thinking about Leonardo's use of sfumato, and I'm thinking about some of the later mannerist painters. SPEAKER 2: I think we have, in some ways, the beginnings of romanticism in a figure that is really languid and sensual, and there's emotionalism here that's very different from the severity and the rationalism of David and neoclassicism. SPEAKER 1: No, I think that's right. In some ways, at least in terms of temperament, this is a return to the more lascivious or-- actually, you can't say lascivious because, of course Diana was chaste-- but to the emotionalism and the interests of the heart that had been so much a part of the Rococo.