Jupiter and Semele

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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.’