Jupiter and Semele

Jupiter et Semele-Gustave Moreau 1894-1895
A detail of Moreau’s stupendous and highly personal interpretation of the classical myth of Jupiter and Semele was used as the cover of Roberto Bolano’s masterpiece 2666, surely the greatest novel of the 21st century to date.

Showing the moment when Jupiter reveals himself in all his cosmic splendour to the mortal woman Semele, thus causing her death as she is penetrated by the divine effluence, Jupiter et Semele is, as critics have noted, ‘The most sumptuous expression imaginable of an orgasm.’ The crowded canvas with its startling contrasts of lush colour and deep shadow is populated by many mythological figures all seemingly unaware of what is happening in other parts of the painting. Although there is a frenzy of action Moreau has managed to create a frieze-like atmosphere; the awful stillness that happens before and after a cataclysmic event.

Moreau’s paintings are dense and hermetic dreamscapes. As Bolano notes only Moreau could convey, ‘A sense of terror, bedecked with jewels.’

46 thoughts on “Jupiter and Semele

      1. Yes, I hear you. I was in NYC for the first time in April and went museum hopping. You would love The Met. Orgasms in every room. Any idea how large this is, physically speaking?

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  1. Its incredible in scale, detail and content. The bright whiteness of Semele stands out in stark contrast to the rest of the figures and draws the eye. I agree with Emily, you could stare at it for hours and still discover something new.

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  2. Beautiful painting and a very interesting description of it. Thank you. It reminds me of some of the great Baroque altar pieces in Spain and Mexico, crammed with tiny details and something new in each nook and cranny.

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      1. I love the juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane. The painting would have been impossible, in Spain, with the Inquisition looking over the painter’s shoulder … the thought police are everywhere. I said to a friend in Spain: “All these policemen in uniform: don’t they frighten you?” His reply: “It’s the ones not in uniform that really scare me.”

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    1. Well I have a lot of art here and not every piece is going to grab everyone… I have two aesthetics… one is black and white quite minimal and the other is lurid, trippy and over the top— go figure how they can co-exist together

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