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Work of Art

Title: The Apparition

Artist: Gustave Moreau
Completion Date: 1876
Style: Symbolism
Genre: religious painting
Technique: watercolor
Dimensions: 72 x 105 cm
Gallery: Musée du Louvre

“Des Esseintes saw realized at last the Salome, weird and superhuman, he had dreamed of. No longer was she merely the dancing girl who extorts a cry of lust and concupiscence from an old man by the lascivious contortions of her body; who breaks the will, masters the mind of a King by the spectacle of her quivering bosoms, heaving belly and tossing thighs; she was now revealed in a sense as the symbolic incarnation of world-old ice, the goddess of immortal Hysteria, the Curse of Beauty supreme above all other beauties by the cataleptic spasm that stirs the flesh and steels her muscles……a monstrous Beast of the Apocalypse, indifferent, irresponsible, insensible, poisoning, like Helen of Troy of the Classic fables, all who come near her, all who see her, all who touch her.”

—-J.K. Huysmans, À rebours (1884)

Painted in 1876, Gustave Moreau’s The Apparition continued to explore the legend of Salome’s Dance. Moreau appropriately chose to utilize watercolors instead of oil pigments for this work. By using lighter tones and blurring delineations, he succeeded in capturing a beatific vision during Salome’s contortions. In a state of physical ecstasy, Salome gestures towards a beatific vision of the rewards she passionately desires. The geriatric, withered Herod looks on in the background while all attention is drawn to Jokannan’s head. Surrounded by seraphic light, his martyrdom reminds the viewer of redemptive power and the fulfillment of prophecy.

Deeply fascinated with theophanic revelation, Moreau illustrated a fantastical vision experienced during the height of Salome’s dance. For only a glittering moment, reality blurs and the saint’s ultimate fate appears before us. Scenes of Orientalist splendor fade away into the background while the viewer exalts God’s martyred prophet. In the heights of whirling ecstasy, Salome stretches out her hand towards her dance’s ultimate reward. Moreau’s technique also served to heighten the mood and illustrate this scene’s transience. The viewer remains awed by this phantasmagorical reverie but knows that it will forever be burned into his very consciousness.

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Work of Art

Title: David
Artist: Gustave Moreau
Style: Symbolism
Completion Date: 1878
Genre: religious painting
Technique: oil

Completed in 1878, Gustave Moreau’s David continued his fascination with Orientalist and Biblical themes. Here, Moreau focuses on a specific legendary figure and his own legacy. The depiction cleverly depicts King David as a withered patriarch instead of a comely youth armed with stones and sling against Goliath. Typically, images of David fixate on his youth and early kingship with Michaelangelo’s David being a prominent example. Moreau subverts this dominant iconography and portrays David as a geriatric elder bereft of human company. Alone in his magnificent palace ensconced on a jeweled throne, he has only an angel to comfort him. Absalom’s death aged him and now he awaits death with open arms knowing that Solomon will inherit his kingdom. The sun sets in the horizon, the flame burns low in the paschal lamp and the old man’s thread will soon be shorn by his God.

Deeply evocative and illustrative of Nineteenth century Gallic fascination with the Orient, Moreau does not strive for historical accuracy in David but instead constructs an extraordinary scene. Moreau’s remarkable attention to detail clearly shows itself in this work. Intending to illustrate an imagined historical scene, he incorporated stylistic intricacy into all facets of this work. Inlaid lapis lazuli bedeck the throne’s steps, mosaicked colonnades support a gilded roof and the somnolent king dozes on a marble throne decorated with emeralds. The eye is drawn toward David but also absorbs all of the painting’s facets through Moreau’s skillful use of sunlight. Fantastical and imaginative, his vision inspires sympathy for an Old Testament king and his twilight woes. Despite David’s manifold sins, he ruled under God’s will and will soon meet his Lord in his celestial Zion.

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Daily Work of Art

Title: St. Sebastian

Artist: Gustave Moreau

Completion Date: 1869

Style: Symbolism

Genre: religious painting

Technique: oil

Dimensions: 32.2 x 23.8 cm

Painted in 1869, Gustave Moreau’s Symbolist St. Sebastian cleverly perplexes and tantalizes its viewers. Legendarily executed in 288 A.D. by order of Tetrarch Diocletian, Roman centurions bound the young Christian to a tree and repeatedly pierced him with arrows. Since his death, the Vatican considered him a patron of soldiers, plague victims and Christian martyrs. Long understood as a homoerotic image, artists as varied as El Greco, Derek Jarman and Robert Mapplethorpe devotedly illustrated the comely youth’s sacrifice and death. Jarman’s 1976 film Sebastiane portrayed him as a victim of a centurion’s lust, who gave up his life for his Christian faith. With striated muscles and supple skin, Jarman’s youthful saint hung from a tree while phallically pierced by Roman arrows. Moreau’s St. Sebastian further engages this subtext while simultaneously depicting the young man’s fear and piety before his final end.

Perhaps the first aspect of Moreau’s painting that speaks to the viewer is its representation of St. Sebastian’s face. Trepidation, angst and adolescent sadness all flash out of his eyes while his pulchritudinous body remains strained. His Mediterranean face inspires sympathy while his full lips and flowing hair convey femininity. Moreau wisely blurs the painting’s background causing full attention to be focused on his boyish saint. Only a few layers of oil pigments were employed in creating this image. Unlike other paintings such as Salome Dancing before Herod and Jupiter and Semele, Moreau does not utilize glazing and layers for a ‘built-up‘ effect typical of Nineteenth century academy techniques. Sebastian’s flesh is painted in golden, wan tones with delicate smudges suggestive of light body hair at armpits and chest. As graceful and blooming as his ephebic saint, his Saint Sebastian exploringly palpates traditional conceptions of martyrdom and youthful attractiveness. One of Moreau’s maturer works, St. Sebastian cleverly depicts a saint usually found in Medieval and Mannerist works through a distinctly Symbolist lens.

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Daily Work of Art

Page: Jupiter and Semele

Artist: Gustave Moreau

Completion Date: 1895

Style: Symbolism

Genre:mythological painting

Technique:oil

Material: canvas

Dimensions: 213 x 118 cm

Gallery: Musée Gustave Moreau

““In the midst of colossal aerial buildings, with neither foundations nor roof-tops, covered with teeming, quivering vegetation, this sacred flora standing out against the dark blues of the starry vaults and the deserts of the sky, the God so often invoked appears in his still veiled splendor.”

—Gustave Moreau

Painted in 1895, Jupiter and Semele plunges its viewers in realms of myth and magic. According to Roman mythology, Jupiter seduced the mortal princess Semele and produced Bacchus by this union. Seated on his celestial throne, the King of Heaven clutches bloodied Semele like a limp doll while multitudes of deities crowd around them. Bloodied and exhausted, the princess experienced intercourse with a god and will now bear a divine son synonymous with fantastic rites and wild Maenads. Below them flock wild Pan, silent Death and terrifying Hecate. Additionally, a three-head devil and several angels crowd around the throne to see the wounded princess. Riotously colorful, the hosts of splendor crowd every inch of the canvas and invite onlookers to partake of this extraordinary spectacle.

Oppositional to Impressionism, Jupiter and Semele boldly defends both Symbolism and its artistic techniques. Unafraid to depict romantic mythology, Moreau proved he could produce works of sophistication. The painting’s detailing creates a scene of encrusted gold, heavenly glories and physical delight. Pierced by the god, Semele experienced orgasmic ecstasy unlike anything on earth. Now the bearer of Bacchus, she will be honored as the mother of an Olympian. Jupiter and Semele valorized Hellenic cosmology and in so doing created an opportunity for viewers to experience our race’s original religion. Subversive and fascinating, it compels us to slip off our bourgeois assumptions and experience the mystery cults of old Arcadia.

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Daily Work of Art


Title: Salome Dancing Before Herod

Artist: Gustave Moreau

Completion Date: c.1875

Style:Symbolism

Genre: religious painting

Technique:oil

Material: canvas

Dimensions: 61 x 92 cm

Gallery: Musée national Gustave Moreau

Finished in 1875, Salome Dancing Before Herod constitutes Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau’s greatest achievement. Resplendent with Orientalist imagery, it depicts Salome lasciviously gyrating before fiendish Herod Antipas. Wreathed in translucent silk and bedecked in sapphires, the harlot contorts her sensuous, alabaster body to please Galilee’s profligate tetrarch. With every shake of quivering thigh and pouting breast, she urges spectators into frenzied lust. Flavius Josephus chronicled that Herod promised Salome anything she wished if she would dance for him. Following her terpsichorean spectacle, she legendarily demanded the head of John the Baptist.  Herod reluctantly ordered God’s prophet executed and presented his head on a silver platter to Salome. In Salome Dancing Before Herod, Moreau used his full talents in executing this scene of Biblical sumptuousness for his Parisian audiences.

Rich in color and detail, the painting invokes luxurious scenes of palatial Eastern harems. Perceptively, Moreau included a multi-breasted statue of Cybele above Herod’s throne; thereby referencing ancient whisperings of orgiastic rites. With her erotic litheness, Salome powerfully evokes concupiscence in her withered, malevolent potentate. Moreau appropriately applied multiple layers of glaze onto the canvas in order to create a gossamer wrapping over his splendorous phantasmagoria. Bright droplets of paint illuminate Salome’s milky body but Moreau wisely chose to veil them under rich lacquer. This artistic technique heightens the painting’s fantastical vision of Herodian decadence. Teasingly challenging us to scrutinize more closely, his Salome Dancing Before Herod proffers the promise of esoteric knowledge if we can pierce the veil and expose the magnificent glory before us.

 

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